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Robert J. Trumpler Award

For a recent PhD thesis considered unusually important to astronomy

The Robert J. Trumpler Award is given each year to a recent recipient of the PhD degree in North America whose research is considered unusually important to astronomy.

Dr. Katheryn Decker French to receive the 2019 Robert J. Trumpler Award for Thesis Focused on Radio Survey of the Gas Clouds Within Galaxies That Have Ended the Star-forming Phase of their Evolution

Decker French’s dissertation, “New Methods for Tracking Galaxy and Black Hole Evolution using Post-Starburst Galaxies,“ is described by one of her nominators as “the most impressive thesis I have ever seen.”  Her doctoral research focuses on a radio survey of the gas clouds within galaxies that have recently ended the star-forming phase of their evolution.  The lack of star formation in these galaxies has long been assumed to be caused by a depletion of the cold, dense molecular gases needed to coalesce into new stars.  But by looking more carefully at these galaxies in radio wavelengths, Decker French observed that these galaxies have plenty of cold gas to make stars, but that these gases are not in the dense state required to get the star-forming process going –a finding that fundamentally challenged a long-held assumption about “post-starburst galaxies.” One nominator called French’s discovery “one of the most important observational results in galaxy evolution in the last ten years.” If that weren’t enough, Decker French’s dissertation described yet another groundbreaking discovery – that “tidal disruption events,” or instances where a star passes too close to a super massive black hole and is torn apart by gravitational forces – are more common in post-starburst galaxies.  

As a testament to the quality and importance of her work, Decker French is currently a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at Carnegie Observatories and has won research awards from the University of Arizona's Department of Astronomy, ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) foundation, and PEO (Philanthropic Educational Organization), and the National Science Foundation.

Please contact the Awards team if you have questions about the nomination process