Jackson-Gwilt Medal 2022 for Frank Eisenhauer

January 14, 2022

Today, the Royal Astronomical Society announced that the 2022 Jackson-Gwilt Medal is awarded to Frank Eisenhauer, senior staff scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. In the Infrared group there, Frank Eisenhauer has pioneered instrumentation for adaptive optics, integral-field spectroscopy, and optical/infrared interferometry. In particular, he has led the development of two instruments that have been crucial to the discovery and characterization of the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy: SINFONI and, most recently, GRAVITY.

MPE scientist Frank Eisenhauer in front of the ESO VLT telescopes in Chile.

The GRAVITY instrument, for which Frank Eisenhauer is Principal Investigator, combines the four VLT telescopes of the European Southern Observatory to a virtual 130m diameter telescope, incorporating many novel technical solutions that successfully address fearsome engineering challenges, and combining live optical metrology with on-sky observations. It has brought to the IR domain techniques previously feasible only at radio wavelengths, resulting in major gains in both sensitivity and astrometric precision. Frank Eisenhauer has not only led the instrumentation development, creating a unique common-user facility, but he has also been key in the exploitation of GRAVITY in progressing Galactic-centre science.

The next-generation interferometer GRAVITY was installed at the VLTI in 2015, and has been in operation since 2016.

For these reasons, the Royal Astronomical Society awards the Jackson-Gwilt Medal to Frank Eisenhauer. After the Gold Medal, the Jackson-Gwilt Medal is the oldest award issued by the Royal Astronomical Society. Awarded to individuals or teams for outstanding invention, improvement, or development of astronomical or geophysical instrumentation or techniques, it derives from a gift by Mrs Hannah Jackson-Gwilt, niece of the well-known architect and former fellow, Joseph Gwilt. She gave the Society a capital sum, which was to be used after her death for the award of a medal. The first medal was awarded in 1897 to the American astronomer Lewis Swift.

Frank Eisenhauer studied physics at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and received his doctorate from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich in 1998. He is currently a senior scientist at MPE and adjunct teaching professor at TUM. Already in his diploma and PhD theses, he was building instruments to reach the theoretical resolution limit with telescopes. With the VLT-instruments SINFONI and GRAVITY he then developed instrumentation to observe the centre of our home galaxy with ever increasing precision. For his achievements, he has received the Tycho Brahe Medal from the European Astronomical Society and the Stern-Gerlach Medal by the German Physical Society among others.

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