Herschel Medal in Astronomy awarded to Professor Catherine Heymans

Professor Catherine Heymans has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s (RAS) Herschel medal for her ground-breaking analysis of the evolution of large-scale structures in the Universe using weak gravitational lensing.

Unravelling the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter

Professor Catherine Heymans is an observational cosmologist, internationally recognised as a key founder of the use of weak gravitational lensing as a cosmological tool.  This medal is in recognition of her recent work (see link below) leading an international team of researchers in their detailed analysis that combined spectroscopy with optical and near infra-red imaging from the Kilo Degree Survey.  Analysing over 30 million galaxies, the team presented state-of-the-art estimates of the fundamental cosmological parameters for the Universe. They found lower values for the clustering of matter today compared to those deduced from observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation. Together with independent measurements of the Hubble parameter, these ground-breaking results could indicate that our theories of the Dark Universe are missing a fundamental ingredient.  

Professor Catherine Heymans’ research seeks to shed light on the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter – elusive entities that together account for more than 95 per cent of the Universe. In 2021 she was awarded the prestigious title of Astronomer Royal for Scotland, and is using this recognition to further share her passion for astronomy with Scots from all walks of life. As well as being a Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh, she is also the Director of the German Centre for Cosmological Lensing at the Ruhr-University Bochum.

Herschel Medal

The Herschel Medal is awarded for investigations of outstanding merit in observational astrophysics.  It is named after Sir William Herschel, the first president of the Royal Astronomical Society.  He made significant contributions to the field, including the discovery of Uranus and the first theories for how stars evolved.   Previous recipients of the medal include Noble laureates Arno Penzias, Robert Woodrow Wilson and Renhard Genzel, along with the Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy in Edinburgh, Jim Dunlop.   This is only the second time in its almost 50 year history that the medal has been awarded to a female astronomer, following the 1989 award to Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell for her discovery of pulsars.