Thomas Henning - Honorary Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Prof. Thomas Henning, Director of the Department of Planet- and Star Formation at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, has been elected an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA). This was announced by the MTA (Hungarian: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia) following its last General Assembly.

At the 191st General Assembly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA), 17 internationally renowned scientists were recently named honorary members of the Academy. According to the assembly’s statutes, scientists working abroad who are active in their field at the highest international scientific level and whose achievements are particularly appreciated by the Hungarian scientific community are eligible to receive this honour.

Thomas Henning has been Director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg since 2001 and heads the Department of Planetary and Star Formation (PSF) as well as a laboratory astrophysics group in Jena. His work focuses on the formation of massive stars in the Milky Way, the observation and physical modelling of planetary discs around very young stars, the search for exoplanets and their characterisation, as well as the characterisation of the physical and chemical properties of the interstellar medium (gas and dust). In addition, Thomas Henning has been and continues to be involved – partly in a leading position – in various large instrumentation projects, which have significantly advanced the observation of exoplanets and our understanding of their formation. Henning also launched the Heidelberg Initiative for the Origins of Life (HIFOL) five years ago and is to open new laboratories in Heidelberg in March 2020.

Henning has a long-standing relationship with his colleagues at the Hungarian Astronomical Academy Institute – the Konkoly Observatory. Together, for instance, Henning and his Hungarian colleagues have investigated the light eruptions of very young "baby" stars, searched for minerals in protoplanetary discs and examined them with the ALMA interferometer.

The Hungarian Academy is the most important scientific institutional and academic institution in Hungary, with its academy institutes consisting of 11 sections and over 100 research groups or institutes. Founded in 1825, in its function as a national academy it collaborates with UNESCO, the International Science Council and the EU Commission to organise the renowned World Science Forum, which takes place every two years in the Hungarian capital Budapest. The structural existence of the Academy Institutes recently came under threat by government plans to incorporate the institutes into a new organisation based on the model of the Max Planck Society (MPG). This could be viewed positively, were not the issue of independence – as it is granted to the MPG –  questionable in light of the current government’s policy. In this regard, foreign scientists of particular renown – such as Professor Thomas Henning – have a particularly important role to play.

Patzer Prize Award 2018 for Miriam Keppler (PSF)

On November 30, 2018, the solemn ceremony of the Ernst-Patzer Prize for the promotion of young scientists was held in the auditorium of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA). This year, the awards were given to Michael Hanke (ARI/ZAH), Miriam Keppler (MPIA) und Mattia Sormani(ZAH/ITA).

The Ernst Patzer Prize was donated by the art-lover and philosopher Ernst Patzer and established by his widow. The Foundation awards its prizes every year to young researchers at MPIA and other institutes in Heidelberg and wishes to support research particularly in the field of Astronomy. The Prizes are honouring the best publications produced in the course of doctoral studies or in the following first postdoc phase. The publications must have been published in a renowned refereed journal.

The selection committee consists of two scientists from MPIA and one additional external scientist from Heidelberg.

This years Patzer prize winners are:

  • Michael Hanke, Astronomisches Recheninstitut (ARI)/Center for Astronomy of Heidelberg University (ZAH), for his publication "ATHOS: On-the-fly stellar parameter determination of FGK stars based on flux ratios from optical spectra", 2018, Astronomy &  Astrophysics, in press
  • Miriam Keppler, Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), for her publication "Discovery of a planetary-mass companion within the gap of  the transition disk around PDS 70", 2018, Astronomy & Astrophysics,  617, A44
  • Mattia Sormani, Institut für theoretische Astrophysik (ITA) of the ZAH, for his publication "A theoretical explanation for the Central Molecular Zone asymmetry", 2018, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society,  475, 2402

Gruber-Preis für Néstor Espinoza

Néstor Espinoza, Postdoc in der Abteilung Planeten- und Sternentstehung des Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA), ist mit dem Preis der Gruber Foundation (TGF) 2018 ausgezeichnet worden. Er teilt sich den Preis mit Dary Alexandra Ruiz-Rodriguez vom Rochester Institute of Technology.

Der Preis wird jährlich von der TGF und der Internationalen Astronomischen Union (IAU) an besonders aussichtsreiche junge Astrophysikerinnen und Astrophysiker vergeben, wobei die Auswahl von der IAU getroffen wird.

Néstor Espinoza arbeitet im Bereich der Erforschung extrasolarer Planeten (Planeten außerhalb unseres Sonnensystems) und deren Charakterisierung, um ihre Bildung und Entwicklung zu verstehen.
Ein besonderer Aspekt ist - insbesondere im Hinblick auf zukünftige neue Observatorien auf der Erde und im Weltraum - die Analyse der Atmosphären solcher Planeten, denn dies dürfte helfen, auch Planeten zu finden, die vielleicht ähnliche Bedingungen wie unsere Erde auf ihrer Oberflache besitzen.

Während einer Zeremonie auf der 30. Generalversammlung der IAU kürzlich in Wien, erhielt Néstor Espinoza die mit 25,000 US-Dollar dotierte Auszeichnung als Reisemittelunterstützung für seine Postdoc-Stelle am MPIA in Heidelberg.

Paola Pinilla receives Sofja Kovalevskaja Award from the Humboldt Foundation

As one out of six international research talents, Paola Pinilla will be awarded the prestigious Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in November 2018. This will enable the young scientist to set up her own research group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg starting next year. 

With a prize money of up to 1.65 million Euros, the Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize is one of the most renowned scientific awards in Germany. It is financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and aims in enabling outstanding young scientists to set up a working group for an innovative project at a German research institute of their choice.

One of the prize winners is Dr. Paola Pinilla from Colombia, who will start in 2019 at the MPIA to investigate the formation of new planets. She will set up her new research group in the Planet- and Star Formation - department (PSF) of MPIA Director Prof. Dr. Thomas Henning.

Paola Pinilla already knows Heidelberg and its astronomical research very well since she completed her PhD in 2013 at this place. After moving to the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, she is currently researching with a NASA Hubble Fellowship at the University of Arizona in Tucson, USA.

Press Release (Humboldt Foundation)

2017 Cozzarelli Prize

Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Origin of the RNA world: The fate of nucleobases in warm little ponds
Ben K. D. Pearce, Ralph E. Pudritz, Dmitry A. Semenov, and Thomas K. Henning

A commentary by David Deamer is available.

Listen to an interview with Ben K. D. Pearce

MPIA scientist awarded renowned Cozzarelli Prize

During the weekend, the National Academy of Sciences of the USA presented this year's Cozzarelli Prize in a festive ceremony. Together with their Canadian colleagues Ben Pearce and Ralph Pudritz, Dimitry Semenov and Thomas Henning from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) were awarded for one of their outstanding publications to explore the origins of life, which appeared in the PNAS Journal in 2017.

Since 2005, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America has awarded the Cozzarelli Prize. Yearly, the academy honours research publications of outstanding scientific excellence and originality published the year before in the renowned PNAS Journal (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). PNAS exists since 1915 and covers a broad range of cutting-edge research in the fields of biology, physics and social sciences. Since 2007, the award has been named after the well-known American biochemist Nicholas Robert Cozzarelli (1938-2006), who was editor-in-chief between 1995 and 2006. The prize is awarded annually by the editors. The selection is based on all publications from the previous year.

Last Sunday (29.04.2018), Ben Pearce, Ralph Pudritz, Dimitry Semenov and Thomas Henning were awarded the Cozzarelli Prize for 2017 at the PNAS Editorial Board Meeting in Washington DC in a ceremony for their publication Origin of the RNA world: The fate of nucleobases in warm little ponds (PNAS Oct 2017, 114 (43) 11327-11332).

For many decades it has been a hot research topic to explore how the first building blocks of life - i.e. substances from organic chemistry - appeared on earth about four billion years ago. How could so-called nucleobases such as Adenine, which formed the basis for the first life on Earth, be enriched?
In fact, the publication of the Canadian and Heidelberg authors can be described as outstanding and of originality, because the authors have chosen an extremely interesting and currently still rather unusual approach to investigate this question.
They chose carbon-containing meteorites as the source of the original building blocks and modeled the life-span of the nucleobases in small warm freshwater ponds on volcanic land masses, in which biological evolution could then start.
With this approach, however, the authors argue against the usual way of thinking, the paradigm of biologists, namely that life was created in the oceans and the original building blocks evolved due to the triggering by chemical energy.

However, this approach may seems obvious to modern astronomers, since astrophysicists have already found complex organic molecules even in extremely cold clouds of gas and dust in the Milky Way and also in other hostile to life environments in space. And in particular in meteorites and comets numerous organic substances have been found, making such objects to interesting candidates for possible sources of the original building blocks of life, because our planet was exposed to a bombardment from these celestial bodies in its early days.

The work of Pearce, Pudritz, Semenov and Henning documents the remarkable rise of this reserach area and of astrochemistry to an extremely modern, forward-looking field of research over the last 15 years in which interdisciplinarity plays an important role. With the HIFOL initiative (Heidelberg Initiative for the Origins of Life, see launched by Thomas Henning and Oliver Trapp, MPIA has been trying for several years to bring scientists together for the research in this field.

Further infomation related to the publication:

Awards for MPIA researchers: Otto Hahn Medal for Paul Mollière. EPoS-Poster Award for Asmita Bhandare

Paul Mollière has been awarded the renowned Otto Hahn Medal by the Max Planck Society (MPG). The award at the annual meeting of the MPG in Heidelberg honored his comprehensive investigation of the structure of atmospheres of extrasolar planets and the analysis of their spectra. Asmita Bhandare received another award for her poster on star formation at the EPoS conference in Ringberg.

With the Otto Hahn Medal - named after the famous German chemist and Nobel Prize winner - the Max Planck Society (MPG) annually honors some of its outstanding young scientists. At the Annual Meeting of the MPG 2018 in Heidelberg, Paul Mollière was awarded as one of 10 scientists of the Chemical-Physical-Technical Section of the MPG.
Paul Mollière worked until autumn 2017 at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA Heidelberg) in the Planet- and Star Formation department (PSF) headed by Director Thomas Henning. Then he moved to the Leiden Observatory (Netherlands). During his current postdoc position, he continues his work within the scope of his former dissertation in Heidelberg in the field of exoplanets and their atmospheres.

Another award went to PhD-student Asmita Bhandare, who also works in the MPIA PSF-Department. She received the prize for the best scientific poster ("First core properties: from low- to high-mass star formation", Bhandare, A., Kuiper, R., Henning, Th., Fendt, C., Marleau, G. D. and Kölligan, A.) at this year's EPoS conference at Ringberg Castle at Lake Tegernsee. EPoS stands for "The Early Phase of Star Formation" and is a renowned conference with international participants that has been taking place every two years since 2006.

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