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Queen’s academic announced as winner of Herschel Medal by Royal Astronomical Society

A Queen’s University astronomer has been announced as the winner of a prestigious award from the Royal Astronomical Society.

Professor Stephen Smartt will be awarded the Herschel Medal, which is presented to leading academics for a single investigation, or a series of closely linked investigations, of outstanding merit.

Based at the Astrophysics Research Centre at the School of Mathematics and Physics, Professor Smartt leads teams that scan the sky with large digital cameras to find anything that rapidly changes.

He studies supernovae and how the most massive stars die and enrich the universe in chemical elements. He has directly discovered supernova progenitor stars, measured the energy of unusually luminous explosions and shown that neutron star mergers are powered by the radioactive decay of the heaviest elements.

He said: "I’m thrilled to receive the Herschel Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society. I know many of the previous winners, whom I respect very much, and I’m honoured to be a recipient.

“It recognises not just my contribution to the field, but the work of my team at Queen’s and current and former students and postdoctoral researchers.”


Profile photograph of Professor Stephen Smartt

The Royal Astronomical Society announced the winners of this year’s medals and prizes, awarded to scientists around the world for significant achievements in the fields of astronomy and geophysics, at an online event. The winners will be invited to collect their awards at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in July.

Royal Astronomical Society President Professor Emma Bunce said: “I’m delighted that we can recognise the wealth of talent in astronomy and geophysics through our prestigious awards and medals.

“In the midst of a challenging time, we should not lose sight of the achievements of the stars of our science community, inspiring us by answering the deep questions about the earth beneath our feet and the universe around us. My congratulations to all the winners!”

Professor Smartt was a PhD graduate of Queen’s in 1996 and has worked at the University since 2004.

Last year he received the highest recognition of scientific endeavour in the UK, being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) 2020.

Professor Smartt is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy and a Leverhulme Prize winner. In 2018 he was awarded the George Darwin lectureship from the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Irish Academy’s Gold Medal in the physical and mathematical sciences.

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Photo: Professor Stephen Smartt

Professor Stephen Smartt

Professor at the Astrophysics Research Centre
Astrophysics Research Centre, School of Mathematics and Physics

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