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IfA Faculty Win American Astronomical Society Prizes

Two IfA astronomers have been awarded prestigious prizes by the American Astronomical Society. Lisa Kewley is the 2008 winner of the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy for her work that has shown how the properties of a galaxy depend on how long ago it formed. J. Patrick Henry is one of four scientists to receive the 2008 Rossi Prize for their pioneering work that used observations of X-rays to study clusters of galaxies and the dark matter they contain.

Kewley and Henry both make use of the fact that light from distant parts of the Universe can take billions of years to arrive at Earth. By pointing their telescopes at objects that are at different distances from Earth they can study how the average properties of galaxies and of clusters of galaxies have changed over the 14-billion-year life of the Universe.

Lisa Kewley
Lisa Kewley, winner of the 2008 AAS Newton Lacy Pierce Prize. Photo by Karen Teramura.
Kewley studies individual galaxies. Using telescopes on Mauna Kea and elsewhere, she discovered major differences between old and new galaxies in properties such as the rate at which new stars are formed, the concentration of oxygen, and the presence of a quasar-like nucleus. As a by-product of her research, she calculated that most of the oxygen atoms we breathe were created between five and 12 billion years ago.

Born and raised in South Australia, Kewley received her PhD in 2002 from the Australian National University. She first came to the IfA in 2004 as a Hubble postdoctoral fellow, and in 2007 she became an assistant astronomer, the research equivalent of an assistant professor. In 2006, she won the Annie Jump Cannon Award, also given by the AAS.

Henry focuses his attention on galaxy clusters because they contain the largest known concentrations of dark matter—the mysterious invisible substance that makes up most of the mass of the Universe. By studying galaxy clusters with X-ray telescopes in space and optical telescopes on Mauna Kea, he was able to determine how fast clusters of galaxies formed at different times in the past. From this he could deduce how much dark matter there is in the Universe and how lumpy it is. The Rossi Prize recognizes Henry for being one of the first astronomers to do this type of research using X-rays and for improving the method.

J. Patrick Henry
J. Patrick Henry, co-winner of the Rossi Prize awarded by the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the AAS. Photo by Karen Teramura. 

Henry received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1974. While working at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts from 1974 to 1981, he developed the High Resolution Imager for the Einstein X-ray Observatory. He has been a professor at UH since 1981, and is known for his lively Astronomy 110 classes, as well as for his strong research program. In 2003, Henry received of the Senior Research Award from the Humboldt Foundation of Germany.

"These awards show the overall strength of the Institute for Astronomy faculty, both senior faculty such as Pat Henry and younger faculty such as Lisa Kewley," said Rolf Kudritzki, director of the IfA.

The AAS awards the Pierce Prize annually for outstanding achievement in observational astronomy over the past five years to an astronomer who is under 36 years of age. The prize includes a $1,500 award.

The High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society awards the Rossi Prize in recognition of significant contributions to the field of high-energy astrophysics. The prize is named in honor of Professor Bruno Rossi, an authority on cosmic-ray physics and a pioneer in the field of X-ray astronomy. The prize includes a $1,500 award. The winners of the Rossi Prize will give a joint lecture at the 213th AAS meeting in January 2009 in Long Beach, California. The co-winners with Henry are Steven Allen (Stanford University and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) and Maxim Markevitch and Alexey Viklinhin (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts.)