Astronomer receives $500,000 fellowship


Subaru Telescope astronomer Olivier Guyon has been chosen to receive a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship.

Guyon joins a diverse group of 23 individuals nationwide selected for this annual honor from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, according to a news release from Subaru.

The grant was awarded to “talented individuals in a variety of fields who have shown exceptional originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.” The fellowships provide funding over a five-year period, with no conditions placed on the use of the grant.

The award recognizes exceptional merit over a broad range of work, rather than pinpointing a particular achievement, and the fellowship reinforces the promise of future creative work.

“The award is a huge statement about the trust other scientists have in my work,” Guyon said. “It motivates me to persevere in doing very good work and helping mankind in gaining knowledge. It is such an enormous honor to receive this fellowship, because it is given not only for what you have done but also for trust placed in your continued work.”

Since he read his first astronomy book when he was 10, Guyon has had a passionate curiosity about the universe, particularly the question of whether we are alone. “Is there life on other planets, and if there is, what is it like?” he asked.

Such questions have channeled his career since his childhood, he said. Guyon received his Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Paris in 2002 and began his work as an adaptive optics scientist at Subaru Telescope in the same year. In 2006 he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He has been using his expertise in optics to design pioneering technology to search for exoplanets, i.e., planets that orbit stars outside of our Solar System.

His work at Subaru Telescope has given him an opportunity to apply his expertise in optics and to address contemporary challenges in astronomy. He and his team are designing an instrument to directly detect and image exoplanets and dust around stars outside of our solar system.

Guyon divides his time between Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and the University of Arizona at Tucson, where he works with NASA in preparation for space missions. He notes that the challenges for space- and ground-based telescopes in discovering exoplanets are the same: the contrast of a bright star with a faint planet orbiting it.

Describing himself as a “hands on” scientist, Guyon has been developing innovative techniques for imaging extrasolar planets. “Part of doing research is being up-to-speed with technology that exists and applying it to our scientific goals,” he said.

Over the next five years, Guyon intends to use his grant to stimulate others to engage in science and astronomy.

He wants to develop tools at minimal cost for amateurs, schools and others worldwide so that they can join in the search for exoplanets. A robotic camera for detecting the transits of planets is already being tested on Mauna Loa, and a computer application for analysis of the data is in process.

“I went into astronomy out of curiosity when I was a kid,” he said. “I want to infuse this curiosity in others, especially the younger generation. It’s a huge amount of fun.”

 

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