Frank Eisenhauer receives Instrument Development Award 2023

August 30, 2023

The German Astronomical Society honours Professor Frank Eisenhauer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), with the Instrument Development Award 2023 for his outstanding contributions to the development of innovative complex infrared instruments for ground-based large telescopes.

For many years, Frank Eisenhauer has been developing sophisticated experiments at MPE together with Nobel Prize laureate Reinhard Genzel, with a particular focus on looking ever closer at the center of our Milky Way. In the past few years, the group made several breakthroughs with the GRAVITY instrument, which is currently being operated at the VLT: Einstein’s theory of general relativity has been tested and confirmed multiple times near the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way; hot gas was observed orbiting this black hole at 30% of the speed of light very close to the point of no return; the scientists obtained a detailed view of the gravitational vortex of giant black holes in distant galaxies; and for the first time, exoplanets were observed using interferometry with previously unattained sensitivity to study their atmospheres.

The very high resolution needed for such observations is only possible by using the technique of interferometry, i.e. the GRAVITY experiment led by Eisenhauer combines the four 8m telescopes of the European Southern Observatory to form a virtual telescope 130 meters in diameter. This technique has been used with radio telescope for decades; at infrared wavelengths, however, the technical challenges are huge, and it was up to GRAVITY to achieve the crucial breakthrough. GRAVITY is currently being upgraded with a new system of adaptive optics, laser guide stars and an extended field of view. This project, called GRAVITY+, will soon take interferometry to the next level, opening up the extragalactic sky for observations at the highest resolution, as well as providing ever sharper images for exoplanet observations.

Eisenhauer has received many awards for his research and instrument development, including the highly endowed Gruber Cosmology Prize, the Stern-Gerlach Medal of the German Physical Society, the Jackson-Gwilt Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, and the Tycho Brahe Medal of the European Astronomical Society. Eisenhauer is also a foreign member of the French Académie des Sciences.

The development of SINFONI, GRAVITY and GRAVITY+ were and are made possible by the generous support from the Max Planck Society and the Max Planck Foundation – an independent, non-profit organization for private supporters of top research in the Max Planck Society.

The Astronomische Gesellschaft (AG) is the professional association of German astronomy and astrophysics. It organises scientific meetings and conferences, promotes young scientists and gives awards for outstanding scientific achievements. Furthermore, its tasks include the release of publications, public outreach and educational work. The Astronomische Gesellschaft awards the Instrument Development Prize for the design, development, construction and/or substantial improvement of an astronomical instrument that has led to significant advances in astrophysical research.

The award ceremony will take place during the Annual Meeting from 11 to 15 September in Berlin.

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