2010 Prize Winners

Prof. Michel Mayor
(Observatory of Geneva, Switzerland)

Prof. Garik Israelian
(Instituto de Astrofísica
de Canarias
, Spain)

Prof. Nuno Santos
(Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal)

Prof. Dr. Michel G.Mayor, born in Switzerland in 1942, is an Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at Geneva University. He is the co-discoverer with Didier Queloz, of the first extrasolar planet orbiting a sun-like star, 51 Pegasi (Nature, 2005), and with his team, has discovered about 200 additional planets and planetary systems. These discoveries have revealed the impressive diversity of exoplanet orbital properties.

After studying Physics at Lausanne University, Mayor obtained his Ph.D in Astronomy (1971) at Geneva University. His thesis was devoted to the study of the influence of galactic spiral structure on the kinematical properties of stars in the solar vicinity. His research interests include galactic structure and kinematics, globular cluster dynamics , the statistical properies of binary stars and extrasolar planets. From 1998 to 2004, he was Director of the Geneva Observatory. Dr.Mayor is Principal Investigator on the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planetary Search (HARPS) spectrograph project, which, since 2003, has conducted radial velocity searches for extrasolar planets at the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6 meter telescope at La Silla ,Chile. The HARPS survey has permitted the discovery of a rich population of low-mass planets orbiting solar-type stars. A few of these super-earths have masses as small as twice the mass of the Earth or smaller.

Michel Mayor, in a close collaboration with Dr.G.Israelian and Dr.N.Santos has studied the relationship between exoplanets and their host stars. These authors have unambiguously demonstrated already in 2001 that there is a strong correlation between the stellar metallicity and the probability of finding a giant planet. This result is a crucial constraint for planet formation models. This is the first strong observational evidence that the core-accretion model is the main mechanism responsible for the formation of the observed giant planets population.

Dr.Mayor has served on numerous astronomy committees and boards. In 2006, he was the founding president of the IAU Commission on exoplanets. He was Swiss delegate to the ESO Council (2003 -2007), a member of the IAU Commission on Bioastronomy (1997-2003), and President of the IAU Commission 33 on “ Structure and Dynamics of the Galactic System “(1988-1991). Among the many awards and recognitions, mention must be made of the Medal Einstein (2004), the Balzan Prize awarded in 2000 and the Shaw Prize in Astronomy awarded in 2005. He is a member of the European Academy of Sciences , from 2003 he is Foreign Associate of the Academy of Sciences of France and from 2010 a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2008, he was named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Dr.Garik Israelian, born in 1963, graduated with First Class Honours in 1987 (Yerevan State University, Armenia) and completed his PhD in Byurakan Observatory in 1992. Since then he worked as a researcher in the Universities of Utrecht (The Netherlands), Brussels (Belgium) and Sydney (Australia). Since 2000 he is a Principal Investigator of the project “Stellar chemical abundances: clues on the formation of the Galaxy, black holes and planets“ at the Institute of Astrophysics in Canary Islands (IAC). The IAC is one of the most important centers of astrophysics operating the largest telescope in the world: the 10.4meter GTC. Israelian’s discoveries were covered by BBC, CNN, TVE etc. and reflected in special publications in dozens of national (Spain) and international newspapers and magazines (New York Times, Der Spiegel, Science News, Scientific American etc.). Dr. Israelian has supervised five Doctoral dissertations, and lectured 32 hours post-graduate courses on Stellar Atmospheres and Radiation Transfer at the Universities of Geneva (Switzerland) and Tokyo (Japan). He is a trusted referee of the magazines Nature, Science, Astrophysical Journal etc.

One of the most important scientific contributions of Dr. Israelian is considered the article published in 1999 in Nature. 200 years after the original idea by John Michell regarding the existence of black holes in the Universe, Dr. Israelian led an international collaboration, which provided the first observational evidence that supernova explosions may be responsible for the formation of black holes (John Cowan, Nature, 401, 124, 1999) This discovery was considered by Hans Bethe as “one of the most important discovery in black hole astrophysics”).

Dr. Israelian has served on numerous on astronomy committees and panels. He has presented invited talks, reviews and contribution talks at more than 50 international conferences. Since 2000 he is collaborating with Michel Mayor’s team at Geneva University (Switzerland) and Nuno Santos with who he has published more than 30 scientific articles. They have made several groundbreaking discoveries related to the properties of stars with extrasolar planetary systems.

Following his PhD thesis in Geneva (2001), Dr. Nuno C. Santos continued his research activity focused on several different topics of astrophysics: the search for extrasolar planets and the study of their statistical properties, the study of different stellar astrophysics aspects of stars with orbiting planets etc. Dr. Santos was recently offered an European Research Council Starting Grant, in the value of ~1 MEuro, to develop a team in his present institution, the Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto (CAUP). Since April 2007 Dr. Santos is leading the Planetary Systems research group at the Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto (CAUP). Dr. Santos is leading author of several key (highly cited) papers, including the first detection, in 2004, of a very low mass (possibly rocky) planet orbiting a solar-type star, and to several works showing the clear link between the chemical abundances of stars and the probability that they host a planet. In recognition of Dr. Santos’ research work, he was invited to write review papers in major journals. These include a short review for the journal Science, as well as a major review for the renowned Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Dr. Santos is also presently involved in the consortium of a new space mission for ESA (named PLATO), that has the goal of characterizing the population of planets that exists in nearby stars. This mission will have a strong connection with the ESPRESSO project.

The strong enthusiasm and dedication Dr. Santos puts in his research, as well as his communication skills, give him today significant visibility in the Portuguese media. As a consequence, he participated in different public outreach events, including public talks (more than 20 in high-schools and public libraries), debates, and television science shows.