ALMA Director Receives Prestigious Award From the American Astronomical Society

ALMA Director Receives Prestigious Award From the American Astronomical Society

19 January, 2012 / Read time: 3 minutes

The American Astronomical Society has awarded the 2012 Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation to Thijs de Graauw for his leadership in the construction of powerful new astronomical instruments including the Short Wavelength Spectrometer on the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) and the Heterodyne Instrument For the Infrared (HIFI) on the Herschel Space Observatory.

“I’m proud and very grateful to the American Astronomical Society for bestowing this prestigious award on me”, said Thijs de Graauw. “These achievements wouldn’t have been possible without the support, hard work and creativity of many colleagues and friendswhom I would like to share this award with. They are still for me a source of inspiration to tackle new challenges, such as the construction of the most advanced radio telescope ever, ALMA, that we are currently building in northern Chile and that is already bringing breathtaking science results.”

Thijs de Graauw has served as Director of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) since 2008. Before joining ALMA, he worked at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON), where he was responsible for the infrared and submillimeter research program. In this capacity he acted as Principal Investigator for HIFI. He was also a professor at Leiden University, and was the Principal Investigator of the successful Short Wavelength Spectrometer (SWS), which flew on the Infrared Space Observatory, the predecessor of Spitzer and Herschel.

HIFI is a spectrometer placed on the European Space Agency's infrared space observatory Herschel, which was launched in May 2009. HIFI was built to look in particular for water in a variety of celestial objects, to probe stellar environments, and to study the role of gas and dust in the formation of stars and planets, and the evolution of galaxies. Recently, thanks to HIFI, Herschel confirmed that some comets contain water similar to that on Earth, supporting the theory that Earth's water comes from comets. It also discovered cold water vapor in a disk of dust around a young star, providing for the first time direct information on the role of water in the early stages of planet formation.

The Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation is awarded by the American Astronomical Society to an individual for the design, invention or significant improvement of instrumentation leading to advances in astronomy.

HIFI was designed and built by a consortium of 23 institutes and university departments from across Europe, Canada and the USA under the leadership of the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON), Groningen, The Netherlands, and with major contributions from Germany, France and the USA.

SWS was built by SRON in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, and the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.

ALMA is a global partnership between Europe, North America and East Asia, in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.