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Marc Pinsonneault

University Distinguished Scholar, 2017

Marc Pinsonneault, professor in the Department of Astronomy, is the recipient of the 2017 University Distinguished Scholar Award. Pinsonneault is one of the world’s most accomplished stellar astrophysicists. His research focuses on theoretical models of stellar structure and evolution, with an emphasis on stellar rotation, helio– and asteroseismology, and solar neutrinos. His work shows that rotation of stars drives flows of material and energy within them as they age, affecting their lifetimes and the chemical elements visible at their surfaces. These effects play important roles in understanding observed populations of stars and in testing the physics of the big bang.

Pinsonneault has forged a collaboration between scientists measuring elemental abundances of stars and scientists measuring stellar vibrations with NASA’s Kepler satellite. The combination of these measurements provides a new way to reach behind the opaque surfaces of stars and reveal the physics of their interiors. It also allows accurate measurements of stellar ages, which are being used to decode the history of the Milky Way galaxy.

His sophisticated computational models of the sun led to the recognition that neutrinos have mass and change identity — discoveries with profound impact on the way physicists understand fundamental particles and forces.

One colleague stated, “He has made extremely significant, world-leading breakthroughs in stellar astrophysics. And he has also shown vision in realizing how new, observing capabilities can be used to tackle important astrophysical problems and has then provided the leadership to realize those new opportunities.”

Pinsonneault, a theorist and leading expert in the structure and evolution of stars, is known for his work on the “standard solar model,” which became the basis for defining the solar neutrino problem and subsequent evidence for neutrino oscillations and his foundational papers on the theory and phenomenology of the angular momentum evolution of solar-type stars.

Research ranges from the microphysics of stellar models — composition, energy and angular momentum transport mechanisms — to the observed properties of stars, abundances and ages. Currently, he uses astroseismological data from the Kepler space mission, combined with spectroscopic surveys, to obtain novel constraints on stellar physics, stellar populations and the chemical evolution of the Milky Way.

Each year, the university recognizes and honors six faculty members who demonstrate scholarly activity, research or other creative works, which represent exceptional achievements in their fields. Recipients receive a $20,000 research grant and $3,000 honorarium to pursue their scholarly activity.