Seven members of the MIT community have received the 2022 American Astronomical Society (AAS) Prizes and Awards.
The honorees include two assistant professors of physics, Erin Kara and Kiyoshi Masui, as well as former students Camille Carlisle SM ’10, Charles Keith Gendreau PhD ’95, Laura Lopez ’04, Richard Mushotzky ’68 and Donald York ’66.
Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy
Erin Kara, assistant professor of physics at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, received the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy, which is awarded annually to young astronomers for their outstanding achievements in observational astronomical research during of the previous five years. Kara was recognized for her “innovative and sustained contributions to high-energy astrophysics”.
Kara is an observational astrophysicist, working to understand the physics behind how black holes grow and affect their surroundings. Kara’s pioneering work includes high-impact studies of the plasma around black hole systems and the first detection of X-ray reverberations during a tidal disturbance event – high-energy echoes that can help us better understand what happens when a star is torn apart by a black hole.
X-ray reverberation mapping allows astronomers to map gas falling on black holes and measure the effects of strongly curved spacetime near the event horizon.
“We are on the verge of being able to use these light echoes to reconstruct the environments closest to the black hole,” says Kara. “Now we’ve shown that these echoes are commonly observed, and we’re able to probe the connections between a black hole’s disk, jet and corona in a new way.”
Kara is a NASA Participating Scientist for the XRISM Observatory, a joint Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency/NASA X-ray Spectroscopy Mission, and co-chairs the Supermassive Black Hole Task Force. She is also working with education and music specialists at MIT 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,” says Kara. “I hope this award will motivate more early-career scientists to pursue the exciting field of high-energy astrophysics. I am grateful to work with the most caring, diligent and supportive group of students, postdocs and collaborators. They inspire me to be a better mentor and scientist, and they make my job a real joy.
The Lancelot M. Berkeley–New York Community Trust Award for Meritorious Work in Astronomy was presented to the fast radiofrequency team of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME/FRB). The CHIME team includes members of the Synoptic Radio Lab, which is part of MIT’s Kavli Institute and is led by Assistant Professor Kiyoshi Masui, a radio astronomer and cosmologist whose work spans theory, data analysis, observations and instrumentation.
The three AAS Vice Presidents, in consultation with the AAS Journals Editor, recognized the CHIME/FRB team for its meritorious research published over the previous 12 months. Their paper “A Bright Millisecond-Lasting 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 come from young active magnetars – highly magnetized and dense remnants of massive stars.
CHIME is a radio telescope in British Columbia, made up of large half-pipe-shaped reflectors that focus radio waves onto a thousand high-bandwidth antennae. The telescope has no moving parts; it “points” thanks to the digital signal processing of the antenna signals.
“This revolutionary, digitally-driven design allows us to see large swaths of the sky simultaneously, which is ideal for mapping the cosmos or spotting brief transient events,” says Masui.
Masui is also the corresponding author of CHIME/FRB’s first major data release of over 500 fast radio bursts – brief, powerful flashes of radio waves with enigmatic origins. Although fast radio bursts were discovered in 2007, only about 140 of them had been found before.
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 across North America, including MIT.
Science journalist Camille Carlisle SM ’10, an MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing graduate, received the 2022 David N. Schramm Award for Science Journalism in High-Energy Astrophysics for her article “Gravitational Wave Detectors Find Mystery ‘Mass Gap’ Object ‘, which appears in Sky & Telescope June 25, 2020.
Keith Charles Gendreau PhD ’95 received the 2022 Bruno Rossi Prize from the High Energy Astrophysics Division for his contribution to high energy astrophysics. He was recognized for his work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and with the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) team for the development of NICER, which 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 pulsating waveform.
Laura Lopez ’04, a former physics student and former Einstein Fellow and Pappalardo Fellow, is an associate professor at Ohio State University. Lopez received the 2022 HEAD Early Career Award for his “new and sustained contributions to our understanding of supernova remnants and compact objects in the local universe”.
Richard Mushotzky ’68, a professor at the University of Maryland, has been awarded the 2022 Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, which celebrates a distinguished career in astronomical research. Mushotzky was recognized for “a lifetime of innovative X-ray and multi-wavelength research”, including fundamental studies of the properties of active galactic nuclei and the composition and structures of hot gases 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 Award, which honors “a living individual for extraordinary or long-term disinterested service to astronomy.” He was recognized for the conception and design of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a major imaging and spectroscopic study that created the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the universe ever made.