Rebekah Dawson, Shaffer Career Development Professor in Science at Penn State, has been awarded the 2021 Helen B. Warner Prize for Astronomy by the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Dawson was recognized “for her important contributions on planet formation and dynamics, particularly on hot Jupiter exoplanets and the connection between planetary composition and orbital structure.”
The Warner Prize is awarded annually for a significant contribution to observational or theoretical astronomy during the five years preceding the award. It is given to an astronomer resident in North America who has not attained 36 years of age in the year designated for the award or must be within eight years of receipt of their PhD degree. This is Dawson’s second AAS prize; she received the Annie Jump Cannon Award in 2017 for her earlier work modeling the dynamical interactions of exoplanets in multiplanet systems.
“I’m not surprised to see Bekki Dawson honored with another Society prize,” said AAS President Paula Szkody (University of Washington). “She’s been a rising star in our field since her graduate-student days.”
Dawson focuses her research on understanding how planetary systems beyond our solar system originate. She is interested in identifying the key factors that contribute to planetary formation and evolution and that lead to the wide variety of planetary orbital and compositional properties observed in extra-solar planets. She combines simulations and theory with statistics and data analysis of observed planets to test theories of the origins of planetary systems. Dawson is developing a comprehensive blueprint to help understand newly discovered planets in the context of their system’s formation and evolution -- important factors in whether the planets may harbor life.
Dawson was named Shaffer Career Development Professor in Science in the Eberly College of Science at Penn State in 2020. She has been honored with the 2020 Harold C. Urey Prize by the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences, the 2018 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in Physics, the 2017 American Astronomical Society Annie Jump Cannon Award, the 2013 American Astronomical Society Rodger Doxsey Travel Prize, and several other awards. Her research has been published in journals including Science, Nature, The Astrophysical Journal, and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State, Dawson was a Miller Research Fellow at the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science at the University of California, Berkeley, from 2013 to 2015. She earned a doctoral degree in astronomy and astrophysics at Harvard University in 2013 and a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics at Wellesley College in 2009.