Astronomer Receives High International Honor for Excellence in Research on Galaxy Evolution

February 4, 2013

Contact: Janet Lathrop 413/545-0444

AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts astronomy researcher Daniela Calzetti recently received one of her profession’s most important honors when she was named the 2013 Blaauw Professor at the University of Groningen’s Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in The Netherlands. She is recognized for “excellence in research, broad knowledge of astronomy and an outstanding international status in astronomy.”
Calzetti will spend about four weeks over the coming year at the institute, a world hub of cutting-edge astronomy research. She will give four lectures to about 100 graduate and doctoral students on current research and a public lecture. Also, the institute will organize a day-long symposium on a research topic of her choice for her peers from around the world.
Calzetti says, “This is completely unexpected, it caught me absolutely by surprise. I feel very honored because there aren’t many such positions for astronomers. It’s a great honor for me to be included among the extremely famous and accomplished astronomers who have received this professorship in the past.”  Stephen Schneider, chair of the astronomy department, says, “Daniela's research on galaxies has been groundbreaking. She richly deserves to be added to the extremely distinguished group of astronomers awarded Blauuw Professorships.”
A specialist in how galaxies are formed, Calzetti is known worldwide for“Calzetti’s Law,” a tool she developed in the mid-1990s that, among other things, allows astronomers to estimate how much information they are missing due to dust obscuring probes of very distant galaxies. “So far it hasn’t been refuted,” she notes. “It’s probably about time for someone to replace it, but right now it’s still effective.”
Calzetti’s research interest is in exploring galaxies and how their shape is linked to the stars they form. “We’re making progress on how to map the formation of new stars in galaxies, that is, asking why stars form in certain places and not others, what factors drive that. There are many different types of galaxies and they seem to form stars according to their own personality. For example, why some are flat as pancakes while others are spherical, football-shaped, spiral or shapeless blobs.”
“We have many ideas, but few hard-core facts. The shapes seem to be closely related to a galaxy’s life cycle,” she says. “Our task is to do a bit of social psychology in asking how the environment helps to shape a galaxy’s personality. We seem to have identified some patterns, but there is so much yet to explore. I’m not convinced I have enough lifetime left to answer our questions about how galaxies are formed.”
The Blaauw Professorship is named for a former director of the Kapteyn Institute. Previous winners, many of whom are members of National Academies and Royal Societies with national and international awards, include Stanford’s Roger Blandford, famous for a model for extraction of energy from a black hole; Francoise Combes, a pioneer researcher on many aspects of modeling the gas and stellar content of galaxies; Donald Lynden-Bell of Cambridge University, U.K., best known for his theories that galaxies contain black holes at their center, and Robert C. Kennicutt, also of Cambridge, famous for the Kennicutt-Schmidt Law that relates gas content to star formation in galaxies.