POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – Debra Elmegreen, the Maria Mitchell Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College, was formally recognized by her peers today for her extraordinary service to the astronomy and astrophysics community.
Professor Elmegreen, who has taught astronomy at Vassar for the past 32 years, won the American Astronomical Society’s George van Biesbroeck Prize, awarded every two years to an American astronomer for outstanding contributions in the field. The AAS board voted Sunday to award the prize to Professor Elmegreen at its semiannual conference in Washington, DC. The vote was announced publicly on Wednesday by AAS President Christine Jones. Professor Elmegreen will officially accept the award at a future AAS conference.
According to the citation for the George van Biesbroeck Prize, Professor Elmegreen was chosen as this year’s recipient …” for her unselfish service to astronomy on regional, national, and international scales, including strengthening public appreciation and support for astronomy, making our community more diverse and inclusive, and acting as a role model and mentor to generations of young astronomers.”
Professor Elmegreen said she was humbled by the recognition by her fellow astronomers.
“If I could pick an award that would mean the most to me, I would have picked this one,” she said.
Professor Elmegreen is currently vice president of the International Astronomical Union and chair of the board of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, which oversees the Hubble Space Telescope and all ground-based optical and infrared telescopes. She is past president of the American Astronomical Society and past chair of the Astronomy section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
As AAS president in 2010-12, Professor Elmegreen launched the Astronomy Ambassadors program, which provides training for undergraduates, graduate students and young faculty. The program included a workshop on engaging with the public about astronomy. While she was AAS president, Professor Elmegreen also formalized a working group on LGBTQ Equality and oversaw the honoring of Frank Kameny, an astronomy and gay rights pioneer. She also oversaw a new AAS Division on Laboratory Astrophysics.
Professor Elmegreen was a co-founder of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium, which includes Vassar, Wellesley, Haverford, Swarthmore Wesleyan, Colgate, Williams and Middlebury. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the consortium runs summer research projects for its students and shares pedagogy and research ideas. Professor Elmegreen was also cited for her decades of work with undergraduates at Vassar and other young astronomers. During her career, she has co-published papers with more than 75 students.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.