The High-Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) of the American Astronomical Society has selected the winners for its top prizes for the upcoming year.
The 2019 Rossi Prize has been awarded to Brian Metzger of Columbia University and Daniel Kasen of the University of California at Berkeley for their theoretical predictions of electromagnetic emission from radioactive nuclei produced in neutron star mergers. These predictions were confirmed by observations of the 2017 neutron star merger gravitational wave event, providing the first compelling evidence for the astrophysical site of rapid neutron capture nucleosynthesis.
“This was the first time we had witnessed such a catastrophic event up close, revealing so clearly the characteristic glow from the fresh synthesis of the heaviest elements predicted by theory,” said Metzger. “A huge amount of credit should go to the LIGO/Virgo experiment and the many observational astronomers, whose cunning enabled the discovery of the kilonova.”
“Visions of neutron stars colliding, and precious metals forming in their rubble, were for many years just images in theorists’ minds, so it’s been fun to see them suddenly appear in a faint red glow that we can all see with our own eyes,” said Kasen. “It took a diverse community of many scientists to launch this exciting new field.”
HEAD awards the Rossi Prize for a significant contribution to high-energy astrophysics, with particular emphasis on recent, original work. The prize is 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 an engraved certificate and a $1,500 award. Kasen and Metzger will give a lecture at the AAS meeting in Honolulu, HI, in January 2020.
The 2019 HEAD Mid-Career prize will go to Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz of the University of California at Santa Cruz for his key contributions to our physical understanding of transient phenomena involving compact objects. The prize includes an engraved certificate and a $1,500 award.
“I am deeply honored to be receiving this important recognition. For me, the most gratifying aspect is that many of these research efforts have been done in close collaboration with students,” said Ramirez-Ruiz. “I believe that properly mentored students will afford one a legacy that will last well beyond that of any award.”
Jennifer Barnes, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, has been awarded the 2019 HEAD Dissertation prize for her dissertation entitled “Radiation Transport Modeling of Kilonovae and Broad-Lined Ic Supernovae.” This work also involves gravitational waves. It established the radiative signatures of mergers between two neutron stars or a neutron star and black hole, as well as the radiative signatures of jet-driven supernovae produced by collapsing massive stars. The prize includes a certificate and a $1,000 award. Barnes received her Ph.D. in Physics at UC Berkeley in 2017.
“It’s a huge honor to have my dissertation recognized by HEAD, and I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of the multi-messenger community,” said Barnes. “This is a very young field, so we still have a lot of discoveries to look forward to. I’m excited to see what we’ll learn next!”
Dr. Barnes and Professor Ramirez-Ruiz will give their prize lectures at the upcoming HEAD AAS meeting being held in Monterey, CA, from March 17-21, 2019.