WASHINGTON, February 1, 2022 -- The Heineman Foundation, American Institute of Physics, and American Astronomical Society announce Norman Murray, professor at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Toronto, as the winner of the 2022 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics.
The Heineman committee selected Murray "for his deep theoretical insight into an exceptionally broad range of astrophysical phenomena, including the dynamics of planetary systems, accretion disk winds in active galactic nuclei, and star formation and feedback in galaxies."
"As I looked over the list of past recipients of the Heineman Prize, I felt both thrilled and humbled. I've been fortunate to work in such an exciting period of discovery in astronomy," Murray said. "I have been lucky to work with so many great people. They have taught and inspired me. I hope, in turn, to teach and inspire others."
"AIP congratulates Dr. Murray for this achievement and his work into many of the phenomena that occur in our universe," said Michael Moloney, chief executive officer of AIP. "One can only be impressed by the significant breadth of the scope of his work -- from understanding the formation of planets to the nature of some of the most active galactic-scale phenomena in the universe. And with his work being informed by observations across the electromagnetic spectrum, his research is universal in many dimensions."
In addition to studying protoplanets, Murray spends time investigating the life cycle of quasars, the brightest objects in the universe, and how they influence their host galaxies.
"I am delighted to see this prestigious award go to Professor Murray," said AAS president Paula Szkody. "His broad knowledge of physical principles, which he has applied to helioseismology and the solar magnetic field, planetary systems within and outside our solar system, star and galaxy formation, and active galactic nuclei and winds, has contributed to major advancements in both physics and astronomy."
Murray credits his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Adamack, for inspiring his nascent interest in the physical world. She purchased a 3-inch refracting telescope for him that came with a solar filter so he could observe sunspots safely.
Growing up in a rural area with little light pollution enabled him to see the Milky Way without a telescope. By using the gift from his teacher, he could see details in brighter objects like Venus, Jupiter, and the moon.
Years later, Murray circled back to the night sky in his quest to understand the most luminous and energetic objects in the universe, quasars. These supermassive black holes slowly accrete gas from a disk, and Murray wanted to know how they worked.
"In the 1990s, my co-workers and I figured out how the intense light of a quasar drives winds," Murray said. "These winds produce characteristic emission and absorption lines, providing astronomers a means by which to measure the redshift, and hence, the distance to the quasar. Many years later, I realized, along with several others, that these winds could affect the rate at which galaxies produced stars. I should note that the exact mechanism is still being worked out."
A clearer understanding of how galaxies produce stars led him to look at how stars produce protoplanets -- large bodies of mass surrounding a star, with the potential to become a planet. Just as intense energy of quasars is the product of gravity, the fundamental force, similarly, plays a significant role in how stars are formed.
"Gravity from the gas in galactic disks, acts on the gas itself, playing a major role in star formation as well as galaxy evolution," Murray said. "The self-gravity drives accretion toward the center of the galaxy, while at the same time producing clumps, known as giant molecular clouds. This is where stars form.
"Protoplanetary disks are in between quasar disks and galactic disks when it comes to self-gravity. The presence of self-gravity, early in the birth of the star, is important. However, as the system ages, despite ever increasing accumulation of mass, self-gravity becomes less of a player. Comparing these cases is very instructive."
Murray shifted gears to reflect on his desire to mentor up-and-coming astrophysicists.
"It's incredibly gratifying to help others learn, especially in something as difficult as research. Along the way, a life lesson or two gets learned, as well," he said. "I have had people tell me that my work inspires them, which is a bit unsettling but also gratifying. I do my best, but I'm not always bang on."
When asked for advice, Murray said, "Stay curious, learn as much physics as you can, talk to as many people as you can. Oh yes, exercise daily. That advice comes from Peter Goldreich, my dorm resident associate at Caltech, when I was an undergraduate."
Currently, Murray is focused on black holes and protoplanetary disks but has also taken a closer look at our home planet, studying the effects of thermal tides on the Earth's length of day and month. Thermal tides, as opposed to lunar tides, are the result of the sun heating the Earth's atmosphere.
This research led him "to use global circulation/climate models, combined with geologic data, to calculate the surface temperature of the Earth, from approximately 1.5 billion to 500 million years ago."
"Earth was much warmer back then, despite the sun being substantially dimmer. However, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 10 to 100 times higher, leading to an extreme greenhouse effect."
In a final reflection, Murray talked about his continued curiosity about the world, and his luck in his professional and personal life.
"I've been married over 40 years to a wonderfully energetic woman. I have three children and two grandkids whom I interact with all the time. I have a marvelous place to work. I feel so lucky, and so grateful."
As the recipient of the 2022 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics, Murray will receive $10,000 and a certificate at a future meeting of the American Astronomical Society. He will also have the opportunity to give a talk at the meeting, if he so chooses.
ABOUT THE DANNIE HEINEMAN PRIZE FOR ASTROPHYSICS
The prize is named after Dannie N. Heineman, an engineer, business executive, and philanthropic sponsor of the sciences. The prize was established in 1979 by the Heineman Foundation for Research, Education, Charitable and Scientific Purposes, Inc. Awarded annually by the AIP and the AAS, the prize consists of $10,000 and a certificate citing the contributions made by the recipient(s) plus travel expenses to attend the meeting at which the prize is bestowed. https://www.aip.org/aip/awards-and-prizes/heineman-astro
The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is a 501(c)(3) membership corporation of scientific societies. AIP pursues its mission to advance, promote, and serve the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity with a unifying voice of strength from diversity. In its role as a federation, AIP advances the success of its Member Societies by providing the means to pool, coordinate, and leverage their diverse expertise and contributions in pursuit of a shared goal of advancing the physical sciences in the research enterprise, in the economy, in education, and in society. In its role as an institute, AIP operates as a center of excellence using policy analysis, social science, and historical research to promote future progress in the physical sciences.
The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899, is a major international organization of professional astronomers, astronomy educators, and amateur astronomers. Its membership of approximately 8,000 also includes physicists, geologists, engineers, and others whose interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising the astronomical sciences. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe as a diverse and inclusive astronomical community, which it achieves through publishing, meetings, science advocacy, education and outreach, and training and professional development.