Seven MIT community members have been honored with 2022 American Astronomical Society (AAS) awards and accolades.
The winners include two assistant professors of physics, Erin Kara and Kiyoshi Masuias well as alumni Camille Carlisle SM ’10, Charles Keith Gendreau PhD ’95, Laura Lopez ’04, Richard Mushotzky ’68, and Donald York ’66.
Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for Astronomy
Erin Kara, an assistant professor of physics at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, was awarded the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for Astronomy, which is awarded annually to young astronomers for outstanding achievements in observational astronomical research over the past five years. Kara was recognized for her “innovative and lasting contributions to high-energy astrophysics.”
Kara is an observing astrophysicist trying to understand the physics behind how black holes grow and affect their environment. Kara’s groundbreaking work includes high-impact studies of the plasma around black hole systems and the first detection of X-ray reverberations in a tidal disturbance — high-energy echoes that could help us better understand what happens when a star is ripped apart by a black hole.
Using X-ray mapping, astronomers can map the gas falling on black holes and measure the effects of strongly curved spacetime close to the event horizon.
“We’re at the beginning of being able to use these light echoes to reconstruct the environments closest to the black hole,” Kara said. “Now we have shown that these echoes are often observed, and we are able to investigate connections between the disk, beam and corona of a black hole in a new way.”
Kara is a NASA associate scientist for XRISM Observatory, a joint Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency/NASA X-ray spectroscopy mission, and co-chairs the working group on supermassive black holes. She is also working with MIT education and music scientists to convert the emission of a typical X-ray echo into audible sound waves.
“I was so honored that my colleagues wanted to nominate me for this recognition, and winning the award is the icing on the cake,” said Kara. “I hope this award motivates more early career scientists to dedicate themselves to the exciting field of high-energy astrophysics. I am grateful to work with the most attentive, diligent and supportive group of students, postdocs and collaborators. They inspire me to be a better mentor and scientist, and they really make my job fun.”
The Lancelot M. Berkeley-New York Community Trust Prize for Meritorious work in astronomy went to the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment fast radio burst (BEL/FRB) team. The CHIME team consists of the members of the Synoptic Radio Labwhich is part of the MIT Kavli Institute and led by assistant professor Kiyoshi Masui, a radio astronomer and cosmologist whose work encompasses theory, data analysis, observations and instrumentation.
The three AAS vice presidents, in consultation with the editor-in-chief of the AAS journals, have recognized the CHIME/FRB team for meritorious research published in the past 12 months. their article”A bright millisecond radio burst from a galactic magnetar”, published in Nature in November 2020, identified the first known fast radio burst in our own galaxy and linked this flash to its potential source, a known magnetar in the Milky Way. This work has shown that at least some fast radio bursts can originate from young, active magnetars – highly magnetized and dense remnants of massive stars.
CHIME is a radio telescope in British Columbia composed of large half-pipe-shaped reflectors that focus radio waves at a thousand wide-bandwidth antennas. The telescope has no moving parts; it “points” through digital signal processing of the antenna signals.
“This revolutionary, digitally powered design allows us to see large areas of the sky at once, which is ideal for mapping the cosmos or spotting short transient events,” Masui says.
Masui is also the corresponding author of CHIME/FRB’s first major data release of more than 500 fast radio bursts – short and powerful flashes of radio waves of puzzling origin. Although fast radio bursts were discovered in 2007, only about 140 had been found previously.
The CHIME project is co-led by the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the University of Toronto and the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, with collaborating institutions in North America, including MIT.
science journalist Camille Carlisle SM ’10, a graduate of MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing, received the 2022 David N. Schramm Prize for high-energy astrophysics science journalism for her article “Gravitational wave detectors find mysterious ‘Mass Gap’ object”, which appeared in Sky & Telescope on June 25, 2020.
Keith Charles Gendreau PhD ’95 received the High Energy Astrophysics Division’s 2022 Bruno Rossi Prize for his contribution to high-energy astrophysics. He was recognized for his work at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and with the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) team for the development of NICER, which has provided insights into the “extreme environments of neutron stars and black holes, including the first accurate and reliable measurement of a pulsar’s mass and radius from detailed modeling of its pulsed waveform.”
Laura Lopez ’04, a physics alumna and former Einstein Fellow and Pappalardo Fellow, is an associate professor at Ohio State University. Lopez was recognized with the 2022 HEAD Early Career Prize for her “new and lasting contributions to our understanding of supernova remnants and compact objects in the local universe.”
Richard Mushotzky ’68, a professor at the University of Maryland, received the 2022 Henry Norris Russell Professorship, celebrating a career of eminence in astronomical research. Mushotzky was recognized for “a lifetime of innovative X-ray and multiwavelength research,” including fundamental studies of the properties of active galactic nuclei and the composition and structures of hot gas in galaxy clusters. Mushotzky will present the Russell Lecture at the January 2023 AAS meeting in Seattle, Washington.
Donald York ’66, Horace B. Horton, Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, received the George Van Biesbroeck Prize, which honors “a living individual for prolonged extraordinary or selfless service to astronomy.” He was recognized for the concept and design of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a large-scale imaging and spectroscopic survey that has produced the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the universe ever.
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