Rebekah Dawson, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, has been named the Shaffer Career Development Professor in Science. The endowed position recognizes outstanding achievement by faculty in the Eberly College of Science with the rank of assistant or associate professor. The professorship is a result of a gift to the University from Dr. Lionel Shaffer, who earned his degree in pre-medicine from Penn State in 1940, and is designed to recruit and retain rising stars in academia by providing them with critical financial backing to kick-start their careers.
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 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.