Careers Physics World  July 2017

Careers and people

Spotlight: Sandra Faber

Sandra Faber has won the 2017 Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize for her significant contributions to the modern understanding of galaxies and dark matter. Worth $500,000, the prestigious prize was established in 2000 and honours scientists whose discoveries have led to fundamental advancements in cosmology.

Faber holds emeritus positions at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of California Observatories, and has made many groundbreaking discoveries over the course of her four-decade career. For example, in 1979 she presented a comprehensive review for the evidence of dark matter that is now considered the turning point of the field. Her later theory of how cold dark matter could explain the structure and behaviour of galaxies now underpins modern understanding of galaxy formation. Faber also discovered that every large galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its centre and played a major role in the development of the 10 m Keck telescope in Hawaii and the Wide-Field Camera for the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Gruber Foundation will present Faber with the prize money and a gold laureate medal during a ceremony in the autumn. She joins an elite group of winners including the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave (LIGO) scientists who made the first detection of gravitational waves and 2006 Nobel prize winner John Mather for confirming the universe began with a hot Big Bang. Faber is only the third woman to be a named recipient of the award out of 33 winners to date (not including research groups) and was chosen by a male-only advisory board.

Movers and Shakers

Karsten Danzmann, who led the development of key laser technologies used in the LIGO gravitational wave detectors, has won the Körber European Science Prize 2017. Worth ?750,000, the prize will be presented to Danzmann on 7 September in Hamburg, Germany. The German physicist is 62 and is based at the University of Hannover. He is also director of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Hannover. Danzmann pioneered the use of “squeezed light” to achieve significant noise reduction in the LIGO interferometers. The LIGO team – which includes Danzmann’s research group – has detected three gravitational-wave signals from coalescing binary black holes since September 2015. The most recent discovery was announced in June (see p4). The prize is given by the Körber Foundation, which was founded in 1981 for the advancement of culture and science by the German entrepreneur Kurt Körber.

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) has announced the winners of its annual planetary research and communication awards, which will be presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of the DPS in October. The Harold C Urey Prize for an early-career scientist will go to Bethany Ehlmann from the California Institute of Technology, US, for her work studying the mineralogy of Mars. Margaret Kivelson of the University of California, Los Angeles, US will be given the Gerard P Kuiper Prize for outstanding contributions to planetary science. Her work on Jupiter and its moons has led scientists to recognize that ocean worlds in the outer solar system may represent our best chances for discovering life beyond Earth. Louise Prockter from the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, Texas, US, meanwhile, will receive the Harold Masursky Award, which recognizes outstanding service. Prockter is the first female director of the LPI and has served on National Research Council boards and NASA committees. Meg Schwamb of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, US, and Henry Throop from the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, US, will each be awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in Public Communication in Planetary Science. Among their contributions, Schwamb created the Astrotweeps project, whereby different astronomers take control of a Twitter account each week, while Throop presents to students and teachers all over the world.

The biophysicist Julia Goodfellow will be the next president of the UK’s Royal Society of Biology (RSB). Currently vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, UK and president of Universities UK, Goodfellow did a PhD in biophysics at the Open University Research Unit before embarking on a career in biomolecular science at Birkbeck, University of London, where she served as vice-master and head of the School of Crystallography. She has also served as chief executive of the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and chair of the British Science Association. Goodfellow will succeed the current RSB president Jean Thomas in May 2018 and will become the third president of the society since it was founded in 2009.