Texas A&M astronomer Dr. Robert C. Kennicutt Jr. has received the Royal Astronomical Society's highest honor, the 2019 Gold Medal.


Texas A&M University astronomer Robert C. Kennicutt Jr. has been selected to receive the the Royal Astronomical Society's (RAS) highest honor, the 2019 Gold Medal.

Kennicutt, executive director of Texas A&M's George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy and a globally renowned expert in observational extragalactic astronomy, is cited by the society "for his fundamental contributions to understanding star formation in galaxies and for the accurate determination of the Hubble constant."

The award, announced today (Jan. 11) at the RAS Ordinary Meeting in London as part of a broader slate of roughly two dozen medals, awards, lectures and honorary fellowships, has been presented annually since 1824, most often in recognition of lifetime achievement. Past winners include Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Arthur Eddington and Stephen Hawking.

Since 1964, two gold medals have been awarded each year -- one for astronomy and one for geophysics. University of California Los Angeles Professor Margaret Kivelson received the latter in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding achievement in understanding planetary magnetospheres and their connections to the planets they surround.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Society of London, Kennicutt joined the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy in fall 2018 after spending the previous year as a Texas A&M Hagler Institute for Advanced Study Faculty Fellow. An emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge, he also holds a primary appointment in the Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona and is a co-chair of the National Academies' Astro 2020 Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Kennicutt and Kivelson, along with their fellow 2019 RAS honorees, will be presented with their awards at this year's National Astronomy Meeting, set for June 30 through July 4 at the University of Lancaster.

"Astronomy and geophysics are disciplines led by an extraordinarily talented group of people," said RAS President Mike Cruise. "The Royal Astronomical Society recognizes the achievements of the very best of these men and women with our medals and awards. Our prizes are won by researchers at all stages of their careers, studying the core of the Earth, the distant universe and everything in between. My congratulations to them all!"

Widely acknowledged as one of the most respected astronomers in the world, Kennicutt has made fundamental contributions to the field of star formation in galaxies, encapsulated in the famous Kennicutt-Schmidt law. In a series of papers, he established the empirical relationship between the star formation rate surface density in galaxies and the surface density of cold gas. The impact of this work is manifest, as evidenced by the remarkable number of citations to his single-author papers.

He was awarded the Gruber Prize in 2009 for his co-leadership of the Hubble Space Telescope's program to pin down the value of the Hubble constant -- the unit of measurement that astronomers and astrophysicists use to describe the expansion of the universe -- which was accomplished to an accuracy of 10 percent. During the last 15 years, he has led a series of international collaborations to obtain comprehensive multi-wavelength observations of nearby galaxies, in the process establishing calibration methods that are now widely used in this field.

Kennicutt has published more than 400 refereed papers with an extraordinary 53,000 citations, including a 1998 paper on star formation in galaxies published by the Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics that attracted the journal's second-highest all-time number of citations. He served as editor-in-chief of the Astrophysical Journal from 1999-2006.

Prior to joining the Texas A&M faculty, Kennicutt spent 13 years at Cambridge, where he was director of the Institute of Astronomy and the Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy, a chair established in part by Sir Isaac Newton and previously held by many notable scientists. He has had prior faculty appointments at the University of Minnesota (1980-1988) and the University of Arizona (1988-2005). Kennicutt earned both his master's degree and doctorate in astronomy from the University of Washington in 1976 and 1978, respectively, then served as a Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellow at Hale Observatories from 1978 to 1980.

To learn more about the Gold Medal and see the complete list of RAS-affiliated awards, visit https://ras.ac.uk/awards-and-grants/awards.

For more information on Texas A&M astronomy, go to http://astronomy.tamu.edu.

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About The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS): Founded in 1820, the RAS encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others. Learn more at https://ras.ac.uk/.

About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is at the forefront in making significant contributions to scholarship and discovery, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $905.4 million in fiscal year 2017, ranking Texas A&M in the top 20 of the National Science Foundation's Higher Education Research and Development survey (2017). Texas A&M's research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting, in many cases, in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit http://research.tamu.edu/.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Robert C. Kennicutt Jr., (979) 845-7778 or rck@tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Dr. Robert C. Kennicutt Jr.

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