Patricia Schady receives Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize

August 22, 2012
This week, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation announced that Patricia Schady, astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), will receive the Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize. Financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the prize is awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for the scientific achievements of exceptionally promising young scientists and young researchers from abroad to allow them to establish an independent junior research group at research institutions in Germany.

At MPE, Patricia Schady works on Gamma Ray Bursts, the most energetic explosions known in the universe. For a few seconds they are the brightest objects in the sky and can be seen to the very end of the visible universe. They signal the death of a massive star and the formation of a black hole. The interaction of the blast wave with the surrounding interstellar medium creates an afterglow in longer wavelengths, which lasts for days or even weeks after the original explosion. More than a third of the gamma ray bursts, however, lack this afterglow; these are called “dark bursts”. Patricia Schady's work has strengthened the belief that such dark bursts are obscured by layers of interstellar dust. Using statistical methods to determine the dust properties in the vicinity of the gamma-ray bursts, she derives the properties of the galaxies where these explosions occur. Her approach will help to trace the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the early Universe.


The Sofja Kovalevskaja Award is one of the most valuable academic awards in Germany and allows the recipients to carry out their research work for five years – independently and largely untroubled by administrative constraints. The objective is to integrate internationally sought-after research talents into collaborations with academics in Germany right at the beginning of their highly-promising careers. The award is named after the Russian mathematician, Sofja Kovalevskaja, who was born in 1850. She completed a doctorate at Göttingen University with a dissertation on “The theory of partial differential equations” in 1874 and was appointed to a full professorship in mathematics at Stockholm University in 1889.

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