Professor Bryan M. Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has been awarded the 2006 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize by the American Astronomical Society, the largest organization of professional astronomers in North America.
Gaensler received the Pierce Prize for his work on the interactions between neutron stars and their surroundings, which led to a greater appreciation of the wide diversity of magnetized neutron stars.
"I have wanted to be an astronomer since I was three years old. I now get great enjoyment by working in this field professionally," said Gaensler. "It's a huge thrill to receive an award like the Pierce Prize, which recognizes all the enthusiasm and hard work that I have put into pursuing this goal over the last thirty years."
Gaensler has conducted extensive research on neutron stars, including an exotic variety with extremely strong magnetic fields called magnetars. In January 2005, he linked magnetars with their massive progenitor stars, showing that some of the biggest stars in the cosmos become the strongest magnets when they die. He also was among the astronomers who studied the brightest explosion ever observed from Earth - a gamma-ray flare seen in December 2004 that was generated by a magnetar in the Milky Way galaxy. His work on this flare was featured in a February 2005 CfA press release.
Gaensler received a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Sydney in 1998. He then held postdoctoral fellowships at MIT and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory before becoming an assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University.
The Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy normally is awarded annually for outstanding achievement, over the past five years, in observational astronomical research based on measurements of radiation from an astronomical object. It is given to an astronomer who has not attained 36 years of age in the year designated for the award. The recipient shall be a resident of North America (including Hawaii and Puerto Rico) or a member of a North American institution, stationed abroad.
Gaensler will receive a cash award of an amount to be established by the Council of the American Astronomical Society. He also will be invited to present a talk at a future meeting of the Society.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.