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Kavli Institute for Cosmology, Cambridge


The 2021 Olivier Chesneau Prize has been awarded to KICC researcher Mathias Nowak for his doctoral work entitled: "The 2017 conjunction of Beta Pictoris b: the Life and Death of PicSat, followed by a VLTI/GRAVITY observation of the re-emergence". Dr Nowak successfully defended his thesis in 2019 at the Observatoire de Paris, before joining the Kavli Institute for Cosmology and the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, as the Gavin Boyle Fellow.  

Undismayed by the loss of the PicSat satellite which was the centerpiece of his planned doctoral work, two years into the works, Mathias was able to switch gears while keeping his objective. He started to work on the then newly commissioned GRAVITY instrument at the focus of ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer. Taking advantage of his practical experience with the problem of injection of light into single-mode fibers, acquired while working on PicSat, he was able in a very short time, to make technical contributions that led to improving the astrometric capability of GRAVITY. Building up from there, he joined the exoplanet program of GRAVITY, where his data processing skills contributed to the first GRAVITY observation of the exoplanet HR 8799e.

He was eventually able to close the circle of his doctoral work by finally observing Beta Pictoris: he produced the first very high quality spectrum of Beta Pictoris b, and ultimately, led the first direct detection of Beta Pictoris c, a planet that had only been indirectly detected by radial velocity. Overall, this work has had a major technical and scientific impact in both the interferometry and the exoplanet communities.

These impressive achievements, owed to a deep understanding of technical issues and their consequences on astrophysical measurements, combined with resilience in face of adversity, are the hallmark of the spirit of the Olivier Chesneau Prize, which this year's board of judges is absolutely delighted to award to Dr. Mathias Nowak.