Ewine van Dishoeck receives Niels Bohr International Gold Medal

October 07, 2022

The Danish Society of Engineers, IDA, awards the Niels Bohr International Gold Medal to Prof. Ewine F. van Dishoeck (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and Leiden University, Netherlands). The medal has been awarded since 1955 for ”outstanding work by an engineer or physicist for the peaceful utilization of atomic energy”.

The award is a collaboration between the Danish Society of Engineers, IDA, the Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen University, Aarhus University and the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters and is accompanied by 100.000 €, donated by the Carlsberg Foundation. It is presented by Queen Margrethe II. During an event at the Carlsberg Academy in Copenhagen. 

Prof. van Dishoeck has devoted her career to understanding how molecules shape the Universe around us. Her unique and comprehensive approach encompasses quantum chemical calculations, laboratory studies, and astronomical modelling and observations. She has pioneered and led the field of astrochemistry and revolutionized our understanding of the physical processes leading to the formation of stars and planets by studying the trail of molecules from star-forming clouds to protoplanetary disks.
A big mystery in the early days of astrochemistry was how large molecular clouds could exist in space when the ultraviolet parts of stellar light can easily destroy them. Prof. van Dishoeck’s famous and much-cited PhD thesis and early work showed how abundant molecules like molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide (CO) could protect the interior of a cloud through a process called “self-shielding“. This research led to several seminal papers on the chemical structure of diffuse interstellar clouds.

Prof. van Dishoeck has frequently exploited cutting-edge observational facilities, especially in the infrared and (sub-)millimetre wavelength ranges. She pioneered mid-infrared spectroscopy in star-forming interstellar clouds and discovered the presence of key organic molecular species locked in ices on grains. Her research revealed that icy grains are effective factories of pre-biotic organic molecules, ensuring that these species are present in significant amounts when terrestrial planets are formed.
Together with her teams she studied in detail the formation and evolution of proto-stellar disks with ground and space observatories at submillimeter and infrared wavelengths, tracing in particular the path of water from interstellar clouds, via collapsing cores, to planet-forming disks. Her masterful application of spectroscopic tools across a broad range of wavelengths, with a superb exploitation of the most capable astronomical measurement techniques, and increasingly powerful theoretical modelling have brought the goal of understanding the formation of solar systems many steps closer.

Through her work, Ewine van Dishoeck has continually pushed the technological frontiers for astronomical observations, spaceborne missions and laboratory experiments. She has played leading roles in the development of large ground- and space-based telescopes, including the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array and the James Webb Space Telescope, which was launched on Christmas day 2021 and has since then been delivering astounding images of the Universe. In addition, she has served as President of the International Astronomical Union, representing more than 10,000 astronomers from close to 100 countries.

Ewine van Dishoeck is the thirteenth in the series of notable physicists and engineers to receive the Niels Bohr International Gold Medal, which was established in 1955 as a tribute to the Danish Nobel Laureate, Niels Bohr.
With the award, Ewine van Dishoeck joins a prominent group of recipients, as over the years the medal has been given to no fewer than ten Nobel laureates. Ewine van Dishoeck herself is a recipient of the Kavli Prize, which is awarded to honour outstanding scientific breakthroughs in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience. 

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