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The Astronomical Society of the Pacific Announces 2012 Award Recipients in Astronomy Research and Education

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) today announced the recipients of its 2012 awards for excellence in astronomy research and education.

The Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award for important research results based upon development of groundbreaking instruments and techniques is given to the Kepler Science Team, led by William Borucki and David Koch, which has revolutionized the fields of observational discovery of exoplanets (planets circling other stars than our Sun) and planetary systems as well as the field of asteroseismology. Through continuous monitoring of some 150,000 stars and innovations in precision photometry from space, more than two thousand candidate exoplanets have been detected and subsequently confirmed by ground-based observations. Kepler’s achievements include the detection of "super-Earths” (planets with masses larger than Earth’s but significantly less than those of the Sun’s smaller gas giants), at least one of them residing in the habitable zone of its parent star. Hundreds of Kepler candidates are in multiple-planet extrasolar systems. The same precision photometry that enables the detection of exoplanets also allows the detection of subtle, periodic variations in stellar brightness for use in studying the interior structure of stars and the determination of stellar masses and radii. As Principal Investigator of the Kepler Mission, William Borucki assembled a team of scientists and engineers to design, construct, launch, and utilize the results from this NASA Discovery mission, along with David Koch, Deputy Principal Investigator, since 1992. The legacy of the mission is remarkable because follow-up observations of the candidates can be performed from small as well as large telescopes around the world.

The Robert J. Trumpler Award for a recent Ph.D. thesis considered unusually important to astronomy is shared this year between Dr. Charles Conroy and Dr. Emily Levesque.

Dr. Conroy’s thesis, “Stellar Population Synthesis for the Future,” produced five published papers and a public stellar population synthesis code. Conroy paid careful attention to the many uncertainties in stellar population modeling and considered the implications of these results in galaxy photometry. His forefront observations have had a large impact on the study of stellar populations in galaxies over a large look-back time (that is, at a distance corresponding to a much earlier time in the history of the universe). His innovations include new spectral synthesis code and two novel techniques for measuring the effects of dust on galaxy spectra, and his tremendous productivity is documented by 29 papers, receiving more than 1,300 citations.

Dr. Levesque studied the environmental properties of long-duration gamma-ray bursts (LGRBs) from the different perspectives of theoretical studies of the interstellar medium, observations of local host galaxies, and observations of massive stars in similar environments. She was quick to point out that the standard model had a significant problem as there appeared to be a bias for LGRBs to be found in galaxies of low metallicity (galaxies relatively poor in chemical elements more complex than hydrogen and helium). Through Keck observations, she measured metallicity in a large number of LGRB host galaxies and confirmed that such a bias does exist, suggesting that many (but not all) of these enigmatic LGRBs must be the result of binary, rather than single-star, evolution. This result opens the way for a comprehensive understanding of LGRBs and, ultimately, what they communicate about stellar evolution, star-formation rates, and stellar populations at large look-back times.

The Richard H. Emmons Award for excellence in college astronomy teaching goes to Dr. Terry A. Matilsky who has served as an enthusiastic and energetic teacher of astronomy at Rutgers University for nearly 35 years. After inheriting a two-semester introductory astronomy class of 10-20 students, he revamped the curriculum and teaching methodology, raised funds for a 24-inch telescope, and oversaw the growth of enrollment to more than 1,000 students. He has developed and taught courses for non-science majors ranging from basic astronomy to an online introduction to research methods in X-ray astrophysics. He also spearheaded the development of the Rutgers Astrophysics Institute (RAI), a four-week astrophysics research program in summer with a yearlong follow up in which New Jersey high school physics teachers and students (and pre-service teachers) are exposed to cutting-edge research in X-ray astrophysics.

The Thomas J. Brennan Award for exceptional achievement related to the teaching of astronomy at the high school level is awarded to Mr. Philip Deutschle who serves as co-Chair of the Science Department and instructor of Astronomy, Physics, and Earth Science at Salinas High School in Salinas, CA. sponsors both the Astronomy Club and Scientists of the Future Club (supporting English Language Learners). Using funds they raised themselves, he and students built and equipped the Salinas Observatory, which students use for studies in astrophotography, star cluster photometry, and stellar spectroscopy. Daytime solar studies include sunspot tracking, H-alpha observations, and plotting of drift scans using a mobile Ku-band radio telescope. An on-going project is the study of solar flare activity by monitoring Sudden Ionospheric Disturbances detected with a VLF radio receiver. Student outreach activities include free public viewings at the Salinas Observatory on Thursday nights, off-site star parties, “Astronomy in the Streets” in Oldtown Salinas, and presentation of hands-on astronomy activities at special events such as Hartnell College’s “Family Science Day” and Salinas High’s “Astronomy Expo.”

The recipient of the Klumpke-Roberts Award for outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy is Mr. Ian Ridpath who, for three decades, has been one of the most respected and widely published authors in the popularization of astronomy. His contributions to astronomy education comprise a rich catalog of accessible books, articles, television and radio appearances and lectures. His many popular sky atlases and guides have gone through a number of editions and are considered models of clarity and facility of use, including the Collins Pocket Guide to Stars and Planets, The Monthly Sky Guide and several editions of ‘Norton’s Star Atlas.

The Amateur Achievement Award recognizes significant observational or technical achievements by an amateur astronomer. Jeffery Hopkins exemplifies a level of long-term dedication and commitment in the very best tradition of amateur astronomers contributing to professional science. He has a long record of achievement in precision photoelectric photometry and recently in high-resolution spectroscopy. He has co-authored dozens of research papers that have appeared in such publications as Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Astrophysical Journal, Astrophysics and Space Science, and the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and has published five astronomical related books the most recent being Small Telescope Astronomical Spectroscopy. He has participated in numerous observing campaigns, including studies of Epsilon Aurigae, comets, eclipsing binaries, and RS CVn stars. Amateur photometry and spectroscopy requires a high level of precision, often without access to professional resources, and Hopkins’ work, going back several decades, has significantly helped to lower the barriers between amateur and professional astronomers.

The Las Cumbres Amateur Outreach Award for outstanding outreach by an amateur astronomer to children and the public is given to Mr. Chuck McPartlin, the current outreach coordinator of the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit astronomy club, which won Astronomy magazine’s “Out-of-This World” award in 2011 for outstanding programming.  Considered key in this selection was McPartlin’s dedicated outreach activities and programming spanning two decades. He routinely takes groups of astronomers with him to events at campsites, school science nights, and Telescope Tuesdays, into other counties to show the sky to people in small communities and to campers in the outlying sites. In addition, he coordinates the monthly public observing nights at Westmont College Observatory and presents regular shows at the Museum’s planetarium.

More information about the ASP’s awards and past recipients may be found here. The 2012 awards will be formally presented at the ASP Banquet on August 7th in Tucson, AZ as part of ASP's Annual Meeting.

Founded in 1889 in San Francisco, the ASP's mission is to increase the understanding and appreciation of astronomy--by engaging scientists, educators, enthusiasts and the public--to advance science and science literacy. The ASP publishes both scholarly and educational materials, conducts professional development programs for formal and informal educators, and holds conferences, symposia and workshops for astronomers and educators specializing in education and public outreach. The ASP's education programs are funded by corporations, private foundations, the National Science Foundation, NASA, private donors, and its own members.