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Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards Announced

June 2012 – Two high school students from Texas and Louisiana are the winners of the 2012 Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards for their astronomy projects presented at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in May. The awards were presented on May 18 by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) in partnership with the American Astronomical Society (AAS), supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

The first prize of $1,000 went to Piper Michelle Reid of Dripping Springs High School, Dripping Springs, Texas for her project, “Photometric and Spectroscopic Analysis for the Determination of Physical Parameters of an Eclipsing Binary Star System.” The project explores how, with careful use of consumer grade astronomical equipment, it is possible for an amateur astronomer to determine an array of physical characteristics of a distant binary star system from a suburban setting. She used a CCD camera, home-built spectroscope, tracking mount, and telescope to carefully collect photometric and spectroscopic data, then analyzed the data and calculated physical properties for the binary star systems BB Pegasi and 57 Cygni.

The second prize of $500 went to Henry Wanjune Lin of Caddo Parish Magnet High School, Shreveport, Louisiana for his project, “A Generalized Holographic Model of Cosmic Accelerated Expansion,” which explores how holographic models naturally account for the observed cosmic accelerated expansion. Astronomers are attempting to understand the acceleration of the universe, which is attributed to dark energy: the discovery of the phenomenon of dark energy was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2011. Henry’s project is an attempt to model the possible ways that dark energy can be represented to explain the observed expansion.

Representing the ASP and AAS as Bok Award judges were Katy Garmany from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), and former president of the ASP, James (Jay) White from Washington & Jefferson College, and Ben Brown from the University of Pittsburgh.

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.

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 education and outreach 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.