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IfAers Win Excellence in Research, ARCS Awards

Karen Meech

Karen Meech
Photo courtesy UH

IfA astronomer Karen Meech has won a 2015 Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Research. It is awarded by the UH Board of Regents “in recognition of scholarly contributions that expand the boundaries of knowledge and enrich the lives of students and the community.” Meech has been a pioneer in observing the behavior of comets. Her research bridges the boundaries between astronomy, planetary science, geology and astrobiology. Her work investigating the leftovers of the planetary building process has contributed to the understanding of the conditions during the time our solar system was put together.

She has been a co-investigator on three NASA comet missions for which she led the ground-based observing campaigns. She has also led a large interdisciplinary research program in astrobiology at UH investigating water and habitability. In particular, she has led the development of space mission concepts focused on the big-picture questions surrounding the origin of Earth’s water.

Her research has been recognized with other awards, including the 1994 Harold C. Urey Prize, given by the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society to recognize outstanding achievements in planetary science by an early-career scientist. The American Association of Variable Star Observers recognized her service to teaching and outreach through the William Tylor Olcott Award.

Two IfA graduate students, BJ Fulton and Chao-Ling Hung, received awards from UH Mānoa for excellence in research. Fulton, a current National Science Foundation Graduate Student Research Fellow, received the master’s level award. His research focuses on the discovery, characterization, and demographics of planets around nearby stars (exoplanets) using robotic telescopes. His primary contributions thus far have been to develop the framework that allows for a completely automated search for planets, which has already yielded three new planet discoveries (see “Robotically Discovering Earth’s Nearest Neighbors” in this issue). He also plans to use the statistical properties of the planets discovered to determine how common Earth-like planets are in our local solar neighborhood. Fulton has published four first-author papers and is a contributing author on more than two dozen other studies, including two published in the journal Nature. He is now pursing a PhD at UH and hopes to be the first to discover a nearby example of an exoplanet with the prospect of harboring life.

BJ Fulton Chao-Ling Hung Nicholas Lee

BJ Fulton

Chao-Ling Hung

Nicholas Lee

Hung received the doctoral level award. Her research has focused on understanding the formation and evolution of the most luminous galaxies in the Universe. Hung has been studying what physical mechanisms are responsible for triggering these extreme galaxies in the early Universe by characterizing their morphological and dynamical properties. Her dissertation work has resulted in three first-author papers published in the Astrophysical Journal, with at least one other paper in preparation. She recently successfully defended her dissertation and will continue her career as the Harlan J. Smith Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas, Austin.

Graduate student Nicholas Lee received the Columbia Communications Award in Astronomy from the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation. For his dissertation, “Tracing Infrared Galaxies Throughout Cosmic Time,” Lee used far-infrared observations from the Herschel Space Observatory to study star formation in distant galaxies and found that massive galaxies are less efficient at star formation than less massive ones. He will study the mechanism that extinguishes star formation as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Copenhagen.