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Jewitt Wins Shaw, Kavli Prizes

David Jewitt

David Jewitt
Photo by Dan Birchall

Former IfA astronomer David Jewitt has received the prestigious Shaw and Kavli Prizes for work done while at the IfA. In 1992, he and Jane Luu discovered what was then considered the first Kuiper Belt object (KBO). Until then, the Kuiper Belt, small objects in the region beyond Neptune, had existed only in theory.

Jewitt and Luu used the UH 2.2-meter (88-inch) telescope on Mauna Kea to find the object called 1992 QB1. It soon became the first of many KBOs discovered by them and others, and eventually led to the demotion of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet when astronomers realized that Pluto is actually a KBO.

Jewitt, who left IfA for UCLA in 2009, is now a professor and director of the Institute for Planets and Exoplanets there. Luu, then an assistant professor at Harvard, is now a technical staff member in the Active Optical Systems Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

Jewitt and Luu received the Shaw Prize for discovering “an archeological treasure dating back to the formation of the solar system and the long-sought source of short period comets.” The Shaw Prize was established by Run Run Shaw, a Hong Kong media magnate, in November 2002. It honors individuals who have made significant breakthroughs in scientific research and whose work has had a profound impact on the world.

The Kavli Prize, a partnership between the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Kavli Foundation (US), and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, recognizes those who have made outstanding advances in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience. It was awarded to Jewitt and  Luu, and Michael E. Brown (California Institute of Technology) “for discovering and characterizing the Kuiper Belt and its largest members, work that led to a major advance in the understanding of the history of our planetary system.”