back to news Sept. 4, 2014

Astronomy Professor Appointed Holder of The Thomas Jefferson Chair for Discovery and Space Exploration

B. Scott Gaudi, professor, astronomy, has been appointed professor and holder of The Thomas Jefferson Chair for Discovery and Space Exploration in the Office of Academic Affairs effective Sept. 1, 2014 -Aug. 31, 2019.

In 2007, Ohio State received an anonymous gift of $20 million to support the exploration of outer space, which funds student fellowships and two faculty chairs named for men known for their fascination with exploration and discovery—Thomas Jefferson and John Glenn. The Thomas Jefferson Chair supports a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences studying grand-scale space exploration, specifically work concentrating on the search for extrasolar planets with the potential to support life.

A member of the astronomy faculty since 2006, Gaudi said, “I am humbled to be named the next Jefferson Chair, and I am incredibly grateful for the generous donation that made this position possible. The funds from the endowment will allow me to continue and even expand my research on discovering and characterizing planets around other stars.

“More importantly, however, it will support the training and development of the next generation of Ohio State graduate students and postdocs, some of whom will go on to find new planets of their own."

Gaudi is a leader in the discovery and statistical characterization of extrasolar planets using a variety of methods, including transits and gravitational microlensing.

Working with national and international collaborators, amateur astronomers, postdocs, graduate, undergraduate—and even high school students—Gaudi has been involved with the discovery of more than a dozen exoplanets. In 2008, he led a team that announced the discovery of the first Jupiter/Saturn analog, which allowed—for the first time— an estimate of the frequency of solar systems like our own.

The first Thomas Jefferson Chair and another planet hunter extraordinaire, Astronomy Professor Andrew Gould, was Gaudi’s graduate advisor, mentor and inspiration. Gould recently led four international research teams that discovered a planet in a binary star system 3,000 light-years from Earth.

Gaudi, who was part of the team, said, "This expands our ideas of where Earth-like — and even potentially habitable planets — can form and how to find them, as half the stars in the galaxy are in binary systems."

Until now, astronomers were uncertain that Earth-like planets in Earth-like orbits could even form in these systems. The discovery was published in the July 4, 2014 issue of the journal Science.

Gaudi is deeply immersed in analytic and numerical techniques for assessing the yield, biases and discovery potential of current and next-generation surveys to determine the demographics of exoplanets. More generally, his interests revolve around the information content of large datasets.

He recently accepted the offer of a two-year appointment as Distinguished Visiting Scientist at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Gaudi is a member of the Science Definition Team for NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), and is chair of the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Analysis Group. He also is chair-elect of the NASA Astrophysics Subcommittee.

Gaudi was the 2009 recipient of the Helen B. Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society and recently won two top honors for young scientists, the NSF CAREER and PECASE Awards.

This exceptional gift also funds The John Glenn Chair that supports a faculty member in the College of Engineering working on propulsion technologies for orbital payload delivery, interplanetary transport and power systems for space travel or for moon or planetary bases.

—Sandi Rutkowski