Skip to main content

Margaret Geller Receives the James Craig Watson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Margaret Geller of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has received the James Craig Watson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for her extraordinary lifetime scientific achievements in astronomy. The NAS will present Dr. Geller’s medal at a ceremony at the Academy’s annual meeting on April 25, 2010.

Dr. Geller is among 17 individuals honored by the NAS for their extraordinary scientific achievements in the areas of biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and psychology. She was elected to the National Academy of Science in 1992 in recognition of her distinguished achievements in astrophysics.

The citation recognizes Dr. Geller for "her role in critical discoveries concerning the large-scale structure of the Universe, for her insightful analyses of galaxies in groups and clusters, and for her being a model in mentoring young scientists."

The Watson Medal was first awarded in 1887. Honorees include Vera C. Rubin (2004), David T. Wilkinson (2001), Yasuo Tanaka (1994), and Maarten Schmidt (1991).

"Margaret Geller is a truly extraordinary scientist. When she turned her matchless intellect and prodigious energy to the study of the Universe, her results were astounding and she changed the field of astrophysics. She continues to break new ground in her research, to mentor young scientists and to teach the world about the cosmos. For these many remarkable gifts, we treasure Dr. Geller and congratulate her on being awarded the Watson Medal," commented Charles Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Dr. Geller holds a B.A. in Physics from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton University. She joined the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1974.

Dr. Geller has received numerous awards and honors for her distinguished achievements in physics and astronomy. In July 1990, she received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and in that same year was elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has also received the Newcomb-Cleveland Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1991), the Klopsteg Award of the American Association of Physics Teachers (1996), the Magellanic Premium of the American Philosophical Society (2008) and the Henry Norris Russell Prize of the American Astronomical Society (2010).

Dr. Geller has been an honorary lecturer at such diverse institutions as the American Physical Society, Cornell University, the Chautauqua Institute, Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

She has received honorary degrees from Connecticut College, Gustavus Adolphus College, the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Colby College, and the Universitat Rovira I Virgili (Tarragona, Spain).

Dr. Geller is broadly committed to public education in science. Her many public lectures, radio interviews, and television appearances have introduced an international audience to the idea that today we can map the universe. Her films, Where the Galaxies Are and So Many Galaxies...So Little Time have won awards from the Houston Film Festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival, and the CINE Golden Eagle Award (1992).

Dr. Timothy Beers, Professor of Physics and Astronomy of Michigan State University, who was Dr. Geller's first graduate student, praised Dr. Geller’s role in his early career: "Margaret has had, and continues to have, a profound influence on my development as a scientist. From my time as her student, when we first began considering the importance of substructure in clusters of galaxies, she taught me how to listen to what the Universe is saying, how to test what I was hearing, and how to share those revelations with others. I am extraordinarily pleased that her lifelong dedication to scientific discovery is recognized and rewarded with the Watson Medal from the National Academy."

Dr. Elizabeth J. Barton, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, described her experience as Dr. Geller’s student: "Margaret is an excellent advisor and mentor to students and junior collaborators. She is particularly careful to give credit where it is due – for example, Margaret's students' names are always first on their joint papers. When I was her student, Margaret spent countless hours talking to me, reading my work, giving me her feedback on our projects and her thoughts about what it takes to have a career in science, how to be 'tough,' the importance of creativity and clear communication, and so on. I still use her advice and insights every day, and more than a decade after I left, she continues to support my career."

Dr. Geller's current research projects range from the structure of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, to mapping the distribution of the mysterious, ubiquitous dark matter in the universe. She is a co-discoverer of a new class of objects – hypervelocity stars, which are ejected at high velocity from the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.

More information on Dr. Geller’s work can be found at:

More information on the National Academy of Sciences can be found at:

For additional information, please contact Amanda Preston, Advancement and External Affairs Officer,, (617) 495-7321.