2020 Prize Winners

Prof. Alexander Szalay
(Johns Hopkins University, USA)

Prof. Isabelle Baraffe
(University of Exeter, UK)

Prof. Adam Burrows
(Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University, USA)

Alexander Sandor Szalay is a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Astrophysics and Computer Science, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. He has got his B.Sc. at Physics Kossuth University, Hungary in 1969 and M.Sc. at Theoretical Physics Eötvös University, Budapest in 1972. His Ph.D. in Astrophysics was from Eötvös University, Budapest in 1975.

Prof. Szalay has worked as a Research Associate at Eötvös University, Budapest in 1975-1980, as a Research Associate at the University of California, Berkeley in 1980-1981, as a Research Associate at The University of Chicago in 1981-1982, Assistant Professor Eötvös University, Budapest in 1982-1986, Staff Scientist Fermilab in 1984-1986, Associate Professor at Eötvös University, Budapest in 1986-1987, Professor at Eötvös University, Budapest in 1987-1995, Professor at The Johns Hopkins University in 1989-1998, Alumni Centennial Chair at The Johns Hopkins University in 1998-2018, Professor of Computer Science at The Johns Hopkins University from 2001 to present and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at The Johns Hopkins University from 2015 to present. He was a Research Associate at University of California, Berkeley in 1984, Visiting Professor at The University of Chicago in 1984-1986, and Visiting Professor at The Johns Hopkins University in 1987-1989.

He was the Project Director of the National Virtual Observatory (NVO) Project (2001-2009) and he is the Director of the Institute for Data Intensive Engineering and Science, JHU (since 2008).

Alex Szalay is a world leader in modern cosmology. His path-breaking research work cuts across traditional scientific boundaries and opened new fields for discovery. In cosmology he coauthored several fundamental papers on structure formation and on the nature of the dark matter in the universe. Professor Szalay was among the very first to introduce the idea that the dark matter which dominates the mass of the Universe might be a neutral, weakly interacting particle, and thus started the discipline known today as particle astrophysics. His statistical studies of the distribution of galaxies and of matter have established the analysis methods which are now standard. In recent years he has introduced entirely new data management techniques to astronomy, pioneering the concept of a Virtual Observatory. He has contributed much to the field of theoretical astrophysics and large-scale structure.

His particular accomplishments include:

  • Introduced massive neutrinos as a viable candidate for dark matter
  • Did the first calculations of structure formation in a neutrino-dominated Universe
  • Established the theory of biased galaxy formation in a CDM dominated Universe
  • Computed the precise power spectrum in dark matter dominated Universes (including the definition of the terms hot, cold, warm dark matter)
  • Invented the best statistical methods to measure the large-scale galaxy power spectrum and correlation function
  • Enabled the first possible detection of Baryon Acoustic Oscillations
  • Helped turn photometric redshifts into a practical tool
  • Created the archive of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), arguably the most used astronomy facility in the world
  • Throughout his career, Szalay’s work has linked different scientific communities. His work sets new trends and directions. He was influential in starting the field of particle- astrophysics. He developed new statistical algorithms, which are now used in mainstream spatial statistics. He has pioneered the idea of the data-driven revolution in astronomy and more generally, in all sciences.

    He has been at the cutting edge in applying new ideas from computer science to astrophysics and carrying ideas from astronomy to other fields, like genomics. Szalay has been very successful in combining ideas from different fields into unusual, novel approaches, often with a twist. While all successes have many “Fathers” and “Mothers”, Alex was usually if not always among the first.

    Alex Szalay is a member of many professional societies, committees and other organizations, such as the American Astronomical Society (AAS, 1988), President of IAU Commission 47: Cosmology (1998-2001), Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 2003), Corresponding Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (since 1990) and many others.

    Prof. Szalay has been awarded E. W. Fullam Prize of the Dudley Observatory in 1990, Széchenyi Prize of the Hungarian Republic in 1991, Eötvös Medal of the Hungarian Physical Society in 1997, Humboldt Prize, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 2004, Microsoft Jim Gray Prize for eScience in 2007, IEEE Computer Sydney Fernbach Prize in 2015.

    Prof. Szalay has published 599 papers, including 293 in refereed journals. He has 81,547 citations. His h-index is 109.

    Isabelle Baraffe obtained her PhD in 1990 in astrophysics from the University of Paris VII and the Sternwarte Göttingen. She moved to a postdoc position at the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching (1990 - 1992) and at the University of Göttingen (1992-1993), before becoming Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) and at the Centre de Recherche Astrophysique (CRAL) in Lyon. She joined the University of Exeter in 2010. Her research is devoted to stellar and planetary physics. She was awarded the Bronze medal from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in 1999, the Johann Wempe Prize in 2004, the Gauss Professorship in Göttingen in 2005 and the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award in 2010. She served as a member of many international panels and committees, in particular the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (2018-2021), the ERC starting grant panel, the European Southern Observatory Science Advisory Committee, the Scientific Advisory Board of the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics, and the Royal Astronomical Society Award Committee. She has been recipient of two Advanced European Research Council (ERC) grants in 2013 and 2018.

    Prof. Baraffe is an exemplary research leader whose career, at the forefront of several domains in astrophysics, has led to pioneering models that have enabled major advancements in the field. Prof. Baraffe has made a huge contribution to the field of brown dwarfs. Her contribution is marked by the development of theoretical models that have pioneered the field. More generally, the field of low mass stars and substellar objects, namely brown dwarfs and exoplanets, has progressed substantially from both theoretical and observational standpoints since the verification of the first brown dwarf in 1995. The incredible interest by the scientific community in these objects has been underpinned, across the piece, by Prof. Baraffe’s reference models. These have been widely used over a period of twenty years to interpret observational data and to develop observational strategies. As such her work in this area, is not only highly cited, but has explained and predicted a range of observational properties of low mass objects.

    Exoplanet research is high priority for UK, European and US funding agencies, driving new understanding of planetary physics, and the possibility of habitable planets outside of our solar system. It is also driving major technological and scientific spin-offs such as instrumentation. A plethora of new observational data is expected from forthcoming instruments like the JWST, successor of the Hubble Space Telescope, the EELT (Extreme Large Telescope planed by the European South Observatory) and space missions such as PLATO (ESA space mission). Having pioneered the theoretical foundations of this emerging astrophysical domain, combining state-of-the-art physics, computational methods and innovative and original ideas, Prof. Baraffe is rightly recognized as a world leader in this field. Her work will serve as the reference to analyse the wealth of new observational results and there is no doubt that she will continue to play a leading role in this domain.

    Prof. Baraffe’s personal ambition is to advance the very frontiers of astronomy, taking stellar and planetary physics to a new era and to make it one of the major domains of 21st century astronomy. To achieve this, Professor Baraffe has led highly innovative projects such as the development of complex numerical tools that combine state-of-the-art physics and computational methods. A significant example of this is the major interdisciplinary project Professor Baraffe initiated and led, in the field of exoplanet atmospheric dynamics. She was instrumental in establishing strong links with other departments at University of Exeter (Applied Mathematics, Climate Science, Geography) and with the UK Met Office, located in Exeter and led the development of the most advanced, three dimensional radiative hydrodynamics models of exoplanet atmospheres.

    Recently, Prof. Baraffe has generated multi-dimensional stellar and planetary models, based on a highly novel numerical tool, specifically the fully compressible, time implicit, three-dimensional (3D) code MUSIC (MUlti-dimensional Stellar Implicit Code). The development of this tool was an ambitious project for which Professor Baraffe was awarded a prestigious ERC advanced grant in 2013. This ground-breaking project is now yielding exciting results through the first applications of the MUSIC code and extremely promising results that open new doors to study fundamental astrophysical processes. Indeed, the significant potential for this new tool was recognized by the award of a second ERC advanced grant to Prof. Baraffe in April 2018, placing her in the highest echelons of researchers both in the UK and globally.

    Prof. Baraffe’s commitment to advance the frontiers of astronomy can also be evidenced through her work in the domain of asteroseismology, the study of stellar interior structures through the detection of pulsation modes (which are key goals of space missions like Kepler/K2 and PLATO). She has made a highly original contributions in the domain of star formation that has had significant impact, completely changing the received understanding of early evolution of low mass stars and brown dwarfs and explaining highly complex and puzzling properties of young objects.

    Prof. Baraffe contributes at the highest level to the advancement of new fields of research. She has trained several generations of PhD students and postdocs, some of whom have now achieved international reputation, inspiring and nurturing talent at all levels. Indeed, any researcher, on a global basis, who works in the field of exoplanets, brown dwarfs or low mass stars both uses and reveres her work. She is the Director of one of the most successful groups of astrophysicists in Europe and has been mentor to the next generation of leading researchers in this field.

    Prof. Baraffe has published 264 papers, including 145 in refereed journals. She has 17,562 citations. Her h-index is 63.

    Adam Burrows is currently a Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. He received his undergraduate degree in Physics from Princeton and his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    His primary research interests are supernova theory, exoplanet and brown dwarf theory, planetary atmospheres, computational astrophysics, and nuclear astrophysics. Well-known as pioneer in the theory of exoplanets, brown dwarfs, and supernovae, he has written numerous fundamental and influential papers and reviews on these subjects during the last ~35 years. He has collaborated with more than 250 co-authors on more than 400 papers and given more than 400 invited talks and colloquia.

    He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the 2010 Beatrice M. Tinsley Centennial Professor, and a former Alfred P. Sloan Fellow. He was the founding Director of Princeton's Planets and Life Certificate Program, a former member of the Board of Trustees of the Aspen Center for Physics and Fellow of the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science (PCTS). In addition, he is a past Chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) of the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences; was the BPA Liaison to the 2010 Decadal Survey of Astronomy; and has been a consultant for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He has served on the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA) of the NRC; on the NRC Rare Isotope Science Assessment Committee; on the Subcommittee on the Implementation of the DOE Long-Range Plan for Nuclear Physics; as the Chair of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) Advisory Board; as the co-Chair of NASA's Universe Subcommittee; as the Chair of NASA's Origins Subcommittee; as a co-Chair of NASA's Strategic Roadmapping Committee "Search for Earth-like Planets"; as a co-Chair of NASA's Origins/SEUS Roadmapping Committee; and as a primary author of NASA 2003 Origins Roadmap. Currently, he serves on the Executive Committee of the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council of the NAS and on the Physics Policy Committee of the APS.

    Prof. Burrows is a pioneer and world leader in the theoretical studies of brown dwarfs and exoplanets, generating foundational models that have informed and educated a generation of scientists. His manifold contributions rely heavily on the subjects of radiative transfer and stellar atmospheres. He has made seminal and pioneering contributions to the theories of brown dwarfs and exoplanets and he has leadership role in educating a generation of scientists at the frontiers of brown dwarf and exoplanet research.

    Prof. Burrows has published 699 papers, including 356 in refereed journals. He has 38,557 citations. His h-index is 113.