Alexander Wolszczan awarded Bohdan Paczynski Medal

September 29, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Alexander Wolszczan, Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, was honored as the third laureate of the Bohdan Paczynski Medal, the highest distinction awarded by the Polish Astronomical Society, the organization of professional astronomers in Poland.

The prize was established in 2011 to commemorate Bohdan Paczynski, one of the most distinguished astronomers of the 20th century. The Bohdan Paczynski Medal is awarded for exceptional achievements in astronomy and astrophysics every other year. The first two laureates of the medal were Martin J. Rees in 2013 and George W. Preston in 2015.

The medal was presented to Wolszczan during the opening ceremony of the 38th meeting of the Polish Astronomical Society, which took place on Sept. 11 in Zielona Gora, Poland.

In 1992, Wolszczan became the first person to discover planets outside our solar system when he used the 1,000-foot Arecibo radio telescope to detect three planets orbiting a rapidly spinning neutron star. This discovery opened the door to the current era of planet hunting and it catapulted the field of extrasolar-planet studies into the forefront of astrophysics. Since 2004, Wolszczan and his collaborators have discovered more than a dozen massive planets orbiting red-giant stars using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, an instrument for which Penn State is a major partner.

Wolszczn was honored with the 2012 National Geographic Traveler Grand Prix award, which is given annually for “overall achievement in travel, science or exploration along with the pursuit of a life-long passion.” Also in 2012, he was named the first recipient of the Frombork Gold Medal by the Gieysztor Academy of Humanities and the Cathedral Chapter of Warmia in Poland. In 2010, he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2002, he was honored in Poland by having his likeness featured on a special set of 16 postage stamps celebrating achievements during the 20th century. The one other scientist so honored was Nicolaus Copernicus.

Among Wolszczan’s many other honors are the 2001 Research Prize for Senior U.S. Scientists from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany and the 1996 Beatrice M. Tinsley Award from the American Astronomical Society. In 1994, he received the “Best of What’s New” Grand Award from Popular Science magazine and the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement.

Wolszczan is a corresponding member of the Polish Academy of Sciences and a member of the American Astronomical Society, the International Astronomical Union, and the International Union of Radio Science. He also is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the World Innovation Foundation.

Wolszczan earned a doctoral degree in physics in 1975 and a master’s degree in astronomy in 1969 at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland. He joined the Penn State faculty in 1992, was named an Evan Pugh Professor in 1998, and became the founding director of the Penn State Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds in 2008.

Last Updated September 29, 2017