International Astronomical Union Elects Mercedes Richards President of Commission on Close Binary Stars
Mercedes Richards, a Penn State professor of astronomy and astrophysics, has been elected to a three-year term as president of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Commission 42 on Close Binary Stars, one of the largest commissions. Richards served as Vice-President of the Commission from 2009 to 2012.
Richards studies binary stars, which are pairs of stars that were formed at the same time, like twins. Although these pairs have the same age, the stars mature at different rates. In close pairs, called interacting binaries, each star affects the evolution of its companion. Richards collects and analyzes observations of gas flows between stars in close binary systems, and uses them to make computer models and movies to illustrate how these stars interact. Richards was the first astronomer to make images of the gravitational flow of gas between the stars in any interacting binary star system.
Richards is a Harlow Shapley Visiting Lecturer of the American Astronomical Society. She was honored in 2010 by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars with a Fulbright Distinguished Chair for research at the Astronomical Institute of the Academy of Sciences in Slovakia, and in 2008 by the Institute of Jamaica with a Musgrave Gold Medal for her accomplishments in the field of astronomy.
The IAU, founded in 1919, now represents about 11,000 astronomers from 92 countries. It is the internationally recognized authority responsible for the naming of celestial bodies and their surface features, discussions on international large-scale facilities, promotion of educational activities in astronomy, the definition of fundamental astronomical and physical constants, and unambiguous astronomical nomenclature. IAU commissions cover all aspects of astronomy, including approving and sponsoring international symposia. Richards organized and chaired one of these symposia in Slovakia in 2011 on the study of binary stars and planets beyond our solar system, and she edited the 600-page proceedings of the symposium, published in 2012.
Before joining the Penn State faculty in fall 2002, Richards served on the faculty of the University of Virginia from 1987 to 2002 and was appointed to professor in 1999. She was a visiting scientist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey during from 2000 to 2001. Richards received a doctoral degree from the University of Toronto in 1986, a master's degree from York University in 1979, and a bachelor's degree from the University of the West Indies in 1977.
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