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Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards Announced

July 2011 – The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), in partnership with the American Astronomical Society (AAS), presented the annual Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards to two high-school students at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held May 8 to 13 in Los Angeles, California. 

The first prize of $1,000 went to Benjamin M. Clark for his project “The Close Binary Fraction: A Bayesian Analysis of SDSS M Dwarf Spectra.” He used the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to derive the fraction of M (cool, red, dim) dwarf stars that reside in binary systems.  Clark is a student at Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pennsylvania; he lives in Lancaster.  He will be attending Caltech in the fall to major in physics and astronomy.  Clark’s mentor for his prize-winning project was Dr. Cullen Blake, a post-doctoral fellow at Princeton University.  His advisor at Penn Manor High School is David Bender.

The second prize of $500 went to Brian R. Graham for his project “The Effect of Tracking Error on the Measurement of Exoplanet Light Curves.”  He used a filtering technique to improve his data in measuring the light curves of stars with transiting planets.   Brian attends Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon, where he lives.  He will be a senior at Southridge next year, and hopes to attend a college or university with a strong science or engineering program after graduation.  His advisor at Southridge High School is Bradford Hill.

Judges for the awards were Nicolas Billot of IPAC/Herschel Science Center in Pasadena; John Sepikas of the Pasadena City College Planetarium; and Kevin Hainline of the UCLA Astronomy Department in Los Angeles.

The Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards are given jointly by the ASP and the AAS. The main criterion for selecting the two annual Bok Award winners is scientific merit. Observational, instrumental, theoretical, and interdisciplinary projects involving physics, mathematics, computer sciences, and engineering in support of astronomy are eligible. The awarded funds are intended to be used by the recipients to further their education and research efforts and are augmented by support for travel to the next winter meeting of the AAS (in Austin, Texas, January 8-12, 2012).

The Bok prize is named for Bart and Priscilla Bok. Bart Bok was an accomplished research astronomer who made important contributions to scientific understanding of the Milky Way and star formation. He received the ASP’s Bruce Medal in 1977 for lifetime achievement in astronomy. Throughout his life, and especially as an ASP Board member, Bok was a strong advocate for outreach and education in astronomy as was his wife, Priscilla, also a distinguished astronomer. They are co-authors of a celebrated book on the Milky Way.

Upon his death in 1983, the ASP established the Bart Bok Memorial Fund to support educational projects. About 10 years ago, the activities supported by the Bok Fund were expanded to include the joint ASP/AAS sponsorship of an astronomy award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, funded in part by support from the National Science Foundation.