Prize from the European Astronomical SocietyTop-Class Award for Two Heidelberg Astrophysicists

13 April 2023

Dr Dominika Wylezalek and Dr Dylan Nelson each receive a MERAC Prize from the European Astronomical Society worth 25,000 euros

For their outstanding contributions to observational and computational astrophysics, two young Heidelberg researchers from the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University (ZAH) have been recognised as “best early career researchers”. They are each to receive a MERAC Prize from the European Astronomical Society (EAS) endowed with 25,000 euros. Dr Dominika Wylezalek is the prize-winner in the Observational Astrophysics category. Dr Dylan Nelson receives the award in the field of New Technologies (Computational). They are both leaders of Emmy Noether junior research groups – Dr Wylezalek at the Institute for Astronomical Computing and Dr Nelson at the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics.

Dr Wylezalek‘s research centres on how galaxies form and what physical processes influence their evolution. Using spectral measurements, she studies how active galactic nuclei (AGN), that is, galactic cores fed by supermassive black holes, impact on the development of their host galaxies and their galactic environment. The MERAC Prize honours her ground-breaking research studies using ultra-modern methods from integral field spectroscopy. For example, the scientist has developed new approaches to identifying such nuclei and examine the feedback effects they cause. According to the EAS statement, Dr Wylezalek is today regarded as an internationally leading expert in this field.

Dominika Wylezalek studied physics at the universities of Heidelberg und Cambridge (UK). In 2014, as a fellow of the International Max Planck Research School on Astrophysics, she earned her doctorate at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). She went on to do post-doctoral research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (USA) and at ESO in Garching near Munich as a research fellow. Since 2020, Dr Wylezalek has led the German Research Foundation (DFG)-funded Emmy Noether junior research group “Galaxy Evolution and AGN”, which is located at the Institute for Astronomical Computing, part of the ZAH.

Portrait Dr Dominika Wylezalek

Dr Nelson investigates how galaxies form and evolve across cosmic time with the aid of numerical simulations. In particular, he studies the role of cosmic gases flowing into, out of and around galaxies. He has played a major part in developing the so-called Illustris simulations for modelling processes of galaxy formation. According to the tribute by the European Astronomical Society, it is thanks to the infrastructure he developed that IllustrisTNG – one of the largest and most complex cosmological simulations of this kind – could be made available to a broad scientific public as open science.

Dylan Nelson studied physics, mathematics and astrophysics at the University of California in Berkeley, California (USA). In 2015 he obtained his doctorate at Harvard University (USA), also earning a parallel degree there in Computational Science and Engineering. He then transferred to the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching. Since 2020, Dr Nelson has headed the DFG-funded Emmy Noether junior research group “Computational Galaxy Formation and Evolution” at the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics; it likewise belongs to the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University.

Portrait of Dr Dylan Nelson

The prestigious MERAC Prize of the European Astronomical Society is awarded every year. The prize is financed by the Switzerland-based foundation “Mobilising European Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology” (MERAC) and awarded by the EAS to excellent early-career researchers or – in alternate years – for outstanding doctoral dissertations in astrophysics. This year’s prizes will be presented in July during the annual meeting of the EAS in Krakow (Poland).