Stargazing professor earns prestigious accolade for stellar discoveries

Astrophysicist Vicky Kaspi is awarded the Bakerian Medal and Lecture for her research on neutron stars and their utility for constraining basic physics

While her research may have focused exclusively on the stars, Professor Vicky Kaspi’s work has most certainly been getting attention here on Earth. Indeed, the Royal Society of the United Kingdom – one of the world’s most recognized scientific organizations – today announced that she is the recipient of the Bakerian Medal for 2021. Awarded since 1775 for outstanding research in the physical sciences, the Bakerian Medal is one of the premier honours of the Royal Society.

In earning this year’s medal, Kaspi joins such illustrious McGill luminaries as Ernest Rutherford and John William Dawson, as well as other renowned scientists like Michael Faraday. The award committee selected Kaspi for her research on neutron stars and their utility for constraining basic physics, recognition of her over 25 years of research on radio pulsars and magnetars. Her work on Fast Radio Bursts – frequent bursts of radio waves originating from outside the Milky Way – was also cited in their decision.

“I am tremendously honoured to have been selected for the Bakerian Medal and Lecture by the Royal Society of London,” said Kaspi. “I have greatly enjoyed my research career thus far, both studying the astonishing objects our Universe has created, and also sharing discoveries with so many brilliant and hard-working students and postdocs. A recognition like this is icing on the cake.”

The incredibly dense remains of collapsed stars are known as neutron stars, and among these are certain types that emit regular bursts of radiation – pulsars. Studying these relatively small stellar objects is valuable as they almost act as cosmic lighthouses that offer consistent and stable activity that can be used to test, among other things, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Kaspi’s work has been instrumental in identifying and understanding the physical forces that govern these fascinating objects, with particular attention to the most highly magnetized members of the neutron-star population, “magnetars.”

Winning the Bakerian Medal is far from the first time Kaspi has won a major award. Her list of accomplishments is extensive, and includes the following honours: the Steacie Award, Fellow of the Royal Society, member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Killam Prize, the Herzberg Gold Medal, and being named Companion to the Order of Canada, in addition to many other accolades. Most recently, Kaspi and her colleagues on the CHIME Radio Telescope team won a 2020 Governor General’s Innovation Award.

Under Kaspi’s watchful eye, stargazing has been elevated to ever-greater heights, and paves the way for even more breathtaking discoveries in the future.

Read the press release announcing the 25 Royal Society medals and awards winners.

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