The American Institute of Physics announced the astrophysicist Catherine Cesarsky as the recipient of the 2020 John Torrence Tate Prize for her major international role in leading major astronomical observatories and other prestigious organizations such as the International Astronomical Union. Named after the celebrated American physicist John Torrence Tate (1889-1950), the Tate medal was established in 1959 and is awarded every two years to non-U.S. citizens for their leadership, research contributions, and service to the international physics community.
Catherine Cesarsky, High Commissioner for Atomic Energy from 2009 to 2012 and today High Scientific Advisor to the General Administrator, headed the Department of Astrophysics at CEA from 1985 to 1993, then the direction of all CEA basic research in physics and chemistry from 1994 to 1999. She served as the director general of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) from 1999 to 2007 where she notably supervised the end of construction and the commissioning of the Very Large Telescope (VLT). She chaired the International Astronomical Union (IAU) from 2006 to 2009 and has just been appointed on February 3, 2021 to head the Council of the Square Kilometer Array Observatory, the world's largest radio telescope under construction in Australia and South Africa.
Catherine Cesarsky will be presented with the Tate medal during a plenary session of the European Astronomical Society Annual Meeting, to be held in virtual form in Leiden (Netherlands), in June 2021.
Born in France, Catherine Cesarsky obtained her master's degree in physics from the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and her doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University (USA), before spending several years as a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology (USA).
In 1974, she joined the Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux energies alternatives (CEA), where she carried out research in high-energy astrophysics on the propagation of galactic cosmic rays, becoming the head of astrophysics in 1985,
In 1985, she was a driving force behind the evolution of astrophysics at CEA towards the field of infrared exploration of the Universe. She was then the principal investigator of the ISOCAM infrared camera built at CEA and placed on the European ISO satellite (Infrared Space Observatory 1995-1998).
After the direction of all CEA basic research in physics and chemistry in 1994. she was appointed by the French Council of Ministers High Commissioner for Atomic Energy from 2009 to 2012. After her stint at CEA, Catherine Cesarsky served as the director general of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) from 1999 to 2007. As such, she supervised the completion of the construction and operation of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) as well as the early construction of the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA) of radio telescopes in Chile - two remarkable astronomical facilities that have transformed our understanding of our place in the Universe.
She also initiated studies for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) project, a 39 m diameter facility, currently under construction in Chile, for the study of exoplanets and early phases of the Universe.
The award committee, in selecting Catherine Cesarsky, praised her “for her leadership in bringing to fruition some of the most important international astronomical observatories, for her statesmanship through her approaches to the highest political leaders in France, Europe, and Chile, and for her service as president of the International Astronomical Union, among other prestigious organizations.”
According to Michael Moloney, CEO of the American Institute of Physics, "Catherine is extremely well respected on the global stage, and this award is only a small token of appreciation for decades of contributions to the that science community. I was honored over a number of years to see her leadership in action in her work with the international Committee on Space Research."
“Receiving the Tate Prize was a lovely surprise for me,” Catherine Cesarsky said. “Having had the luck of being a graduate student and a postdoc in the U.S., I am always happy when I see I am remembered in this hospitable country.”
Catherine Cesarsky has also been honored as AAS Fellow by the American Astronomical Society (AAS), a distinction granted on February 2, 2021 to 31 scientists for their extraordinary achievements and services, their original research and publications, their innovative contributions to techniques or to astronomical instrumentation, their significant contributions to education and public awareness, and their outstanding service to astronomy and to the Society itself.
On the occasion of the first meeting of the SKA Observatory (SKAO) Council which took place on February 3 and 4, 2021, France expressed the wish to become a member of this intergovernmental organization which will ensure the construction and then the operation of the large radio telescope. At that meeting, Catherine Cesarsky was appointed to head the Council of the Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO), the world's largest radio telescope under construction in Australia and South Africa.