The Maryland Academy of Sciences has selected Dr. Laurent Pueyo of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, as the recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Young Scientist (OYS) award. He will receive the award in a ceremony on Nov. 16 at the Maryland Science Center, located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Pueyo joined STScI in 2013 as an associate astronomer after spending three years as a Sagan Fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. His duties at STScI include working on improving the extrasolar-planet imaging capabilities of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled to launch in late 2018.
He is also part of a team that is working on the science goals for another future NASA mission: the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST). The ultimate goal is to find and characterize Earth-like planets orbiting close enough to their stars where moderate temperatures could allow for life to exist.
“This award is a great personal honor,” Pueyo said. “More importantly, it recognizes the hard work of all my colleagues at STScI and within the greater Baltimore area who have been promoting space-based astrophysics and the search for life in the universe.”
The OYS award program was established in 1959 and recognizes Maryland residents who have distinguished themselves early in their careers for accomplishments in science. Award recipients are chosen by members of the Maryland Academy of Sciences’ Scientific Advisory Council, which provides expertise and content review to the Maryland Science Center. Past award recipients include Jason Kalirai, the Multi-Mission Project Scientist at STScI and an associate researcher at the Center for Astrophysical Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University.
Pueyo’s research focuses on imaging faint planets around nearby stars. He is an expert on astronomical instruments that suppress the light from bright stars to reveal the very faint exoplanetary systems orbiting them. Pueyo invented an optical system for future NASA missions that will allow astronomers to take images of other planetary systems. He has also pioneered advanced data analysis methods that are now standard tools used to study extrasolar planets.
STScI Director, Ken Sembach is pleased Peuyo is being recognized by the Maryland Academy of Sciences. “This recognition is extremely well deserved, as he is at the leading edge of optical instrumentation and is one of only a handful of scientists developing the complex optical prescriptions needed to perform unprecedented detection of extremely faint astronomical signals in the presence of bright light sources,” Sembach said. “He has made outstanding contributions to instruments at existing astronomical observatories and is paving the way to create instruments for future space mission designs that only a few years ago were thought to be impossible.”
As a member of the science teams of various ground- and space-based observations, Pueyo has played a key role in some of the most comprehensive direct measurements of extrasolar planets’ orbital and atmospheric properties.
Pueyo was a member of the team, led by STScI’s Remi Soummer, that discovered that three planets around the nearby star HR 8799 had been hiding in plain sight since 1998 in archival images taken by Hubble’ s Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer.
He also was part of the core team that uncovered the methane-rich, young, Jupiter-like planet 51 Eridani (Eri) b in 2015 with the Gemini Planet Imager. In his recommendation letter to the award committee, physics professor Bruce Macintosh of Stanford University in California wrote: “Laurent is brilliant, and his work is of great importance in the study of extrasolar planets — it would not be an exaggeration to say that the success of the major NASA missions of the 2020s and 2030s may come from concepts Laurent has pioneered, and that ultimately, if astronomers succeed in detecting the spectrum of another Earth, the heritage may be traced to Laurent’s work today.”
Pueyo earned his doctorate from Princeton University in 2008 and conducted his post-doctoral work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. In addition to working on JWST and WFIRST, Pueyo is a member of the Science and Technology Definition Team for the Large Ultraviolet Optical and Infrared telescope, a future observatory that will identify Earth-sized planets and assess their habitability.
Pueyo, his wife Natalie, and their five-month-old daughter Aveline live in Federal Hill, a few blocks from the Maryland Science Center.
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