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Wolszczan Awarded Frombork Gold Medal

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9 July 2012

Alexander Wolszczan, Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University, has been honored as the first recipient of the Frombork Gold Medal by the Gieysztor Academy of Humanities and the Cathedral Chapter of Warmia in Poland. Adam Koseski, the Rector of the Academy, presented Wolszczan with the award at the Staszic Palace in Warsaw, Poland, on 1 June 2012. The award commemorates the discovery and reburial of the remains of Nicolaus Copernicus, a Renaissance astronomer and the first person to formulate a Sun-centered cosmology. After Copernicus's death, his body was buried in an unmarked grave under the floor of the cathedral of Frombork, a town in northern Poland. In 2005, a team of Polish researchers tentatively identified the remains and, in 2008, DNA extracted from a tooth and a bone was matched to that of a hair found in one of the astronomer's books. On 22 May 2010, Copernicus' remains were reburied in a tomb in the same cathedral during a Roman Catholic ceremony.

In 1992, Wolszczan became the first person to discover planets outside our solar system when he used the 1,000-foot Arecibo radio telescope to detect three planets orbiting a rapidly spinning neutron star. This discovery opened the door to the current era of planet hunting and it catapulted the field of extrasolar-planet studies into the forefront of astrophysics. Since 2004, Wolszczan and his collaborators have discovered several massive planets orbiting red-giant stars using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, an instrument for which Penn State is a major partner.

In 2010, Wolszczan was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2002, he 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. Among Wolszczan's many other honors are the 2001 Research Prize for Senior U.S. Scientists from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany and the Beatrice M. Tinsley Award from the American Astronomical Society, which he earned in 1996. In 1994, he received the "Best of What's New" Grand Award from Popular Science magazine and the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement.

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

Wolszczan earned a doctoral degree in physics in 1975 and a master's degree in astronomy in 1969 at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland. He joined the Penn State faculty in 1992, became an Evan Pugh Professor in 1998, and the founding director of the Penn State Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds in 2008.


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