Texas A&M University astronomer Robert C. Kennicutt Jr. has been selected to receive the 2019 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Award for Scientific Reviewing, presented this year in astronomy.
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 “for his field-defining work in the field of astrophysics.” He is one of 18 individuals honored by the NAS for extraordinary scientific achievement in a wide range of fields spanning the physical, biological and medical sciences.
The NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing has been presented annually since 1979 to recognize authors whose reviews have synthesized extensive and difficult material, rendering a significant service to science and influencing the course of scientific thought. The field rotates among the physical, biological and social sciences and in 2019 honors reviews in astronomy. The award carries with it a $20,000 prize and is sponsored entirely by Annual Reviews.
Kennicutt’s influential 1998 review paper, “Star Formation in Galaxies Along the Hubble Sequence,” has become one of the most-cited papers in astrophysics. The paper synthesized a broad review of stellar formation, proving a critical intellectual foundation for the field, and also gave birth to two new fields of investigation: the characterization of tracers of star formation rates and the study of the connection between gas and star formation in galaxies.
Kennicutt also is known for the Kennicutt–Schmidt law, which defines a relation between the gas density and star formation rate in a given region, and for his role in constraining the value of the Hubble constant, the unit of measurement that astronomers and astrophysicists use to describe the expansion of the universe. He served as co-leader of the scientific team that definitively measured the expansion of the universe, and continues to research new methods to characterize the evolution of nearby and distant galaxies.
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. Earlier this month, he was recognized with the Royal Astronomical Society’s highest honor, the 2019 Gold Medal.
“It was an utter surprise and a great honor to receive this award,” Kennicutt said. “When I wrote the review paper 20 years ago, I had no idea that it would have such an impact on the subject and still be widely read, even today. It has been a thrill beyond description, something that really makes you believe that you have made a difference in your profession. That is the biggest reward to me — to see the impact of the paper and hear the thanks of so many colleagues who have benefited from it. Receiving an award for it is just the icing on the cake!”
The award will be presented to Kennicutt during a live webcast ceremony set for 2 p.m. April 28 in Washington, D.C., as part of the 156th NAS Annual Meeting.
Learn more about the NAS Awards and see a complete list of winners for 2019.
Find additional information on Texas A&M astronomy.
See a bonus feature from the University of Arizona on the award-winning astronomer and life after “retirement.”
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About the National Academy of Sciences: The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations. For more information, visit http://www.nasonline.org/.
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/.