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Wolszczan Receives Award from Polish American Congress

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Alexander Wolszczan, Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, was honored with the Polish American Heritage Award—the most prestigious award bestowed by the Illinois Polish American Congress—during the 35th Annual Polish American Heritage Celebration. The Heritage Award is given to an individual who has achieved excellence in a career and has brought great pride to Polish-American people.

Wolszczan became the first person to discover planets outside our solar system in 1992, when he used the 1,000-foot Arecibo radiotelescope to detect three planets orbiting a rapidly spinning neutron star. This discovery opened the door to the current intense era of planet hunting by suggesting that planet formation could be quite common throughout the universe and that planets can form around different types of stellar objects.

In 2002, Wolszczan was honored in Poland by having his likeness featured on a special set of postage stamps celebrating the past millennium. Also featured on the stamp was Nicolaus Copernicus—considered by many to be the founder of modern astronomy.

Wolszczan’s previous honors include the 2001 Marian Smoluchowski Medal—the highest prize awarded by the Polish Physical Society—the Gold Medal Award of the American Institute of Polish Culture in 2000, the Commander Cross of the Order of Merit Award from the president of Poland in 1997, and an Annual Award from the Foundation for Polish Science in 1992. He received the Casimir Funk Natural Sciences Award from the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America and the Beatrice M. Tinsley Award from the American Astronomical Society in 1996, and the “Best of What’s New” Grand Award from Popular Science magazine in 1994. He was awarded a Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement in 1994, and in 1998 he was named an Evan Pugh Professor at Penn State—the highest distinction the university can bestowed upon a faculty member.

Wolszczan received his master’s degree in astronomy in 1969 and his doctoral degree in physics in 1975 from Nicholas Copernicus University in Poland. Before coming to Penn State in 1992, he conducted research at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico from 1983 to 1992 as a research associate and senior research associate with Cornell University. He was a research associate at the Polish Academy of Sciences Copernicus Astronomical Center from 1979 to 1983, and was an assistant professor at the Nicholas Copernicus University from 1974 to 1979. He has held positions as visiting scientist or visiting professor at Princeton University and the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy in Germany. He is a member of the Penn State Institute for Gravitational Physics and Geometry.

Wolszczan is a corresponding member of the Polish Academy of Sciences, a member of the American Astronomical Society, the International Astronomical Union, the International Union of Radio Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America, and is a fellow of the World Innovation Foundation.

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