KU Leuven: Conny Aerts is the first Belgian to receive the prestigious Kavli Prize for Astrophysics, together with Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard and Roger Ulrich

Today, the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters announced the Laureates of the 2022 Kavli Prizes in the fields of Astrophysics, Nanosciences and Neurosciences. The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics recognizes outstanding research and exceptional achievements that significantly advance our knowledge of the origin, evolution and properties of the Universe.

Professors Conny Aerts, Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard and Roger Ulrich share the one million dollar Kavli Prize in Astrophysics for their pioneering work in helio- and asteroseismology and for their breakthroughs in these fields, which form the foundations for the current theory of stellar structure. “Their research has laid the foundations for the current theory of star structure, revolutionizing the understanding of stellar interiors,” said the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

Pioneers of helio and asteroseismology
Each of the laureates cleverly linked observations of vibrations at the surface of the Sun and other stars to the physics and chemistry of these stars. This requires an integrated approach of mathematical modeling and thermodynamics, nuclear and atomic physics and quantum mechanics. To this end, they developed computational methods based on time series analysis, pattern recognition and statistical modelling. The transdisciplinary integration of these research domains allows to infer the properties deep within the stellar interior with impressive precision. Roger Ulrich laid the foundation for the initial developments in helioseismology while Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard and Conny Aerts explored the research domain, which was originally developed for the Sun,

“These three scientists are the pioneers of helio- and asteroseismology and together they cover virtually all of its application domains,” emphasizes the Chairman of the Kavli Committee for Astrophysics, Viggo Hansteen. they use mathematical methods to derive their physics and chemistry with great precision.”

Significant improvements in the theory of stellar evolution
Conny Aerts is one of the leaders in asteroseismology and is known for her research into stars that are hotter and more massive than the Sun. Through years of ground and space observation campaigns, she expanded asteroseismology to include such stars in all their evolutionary stages. She did this by focusing with her research team on the development of smart analysis methods to identify the characteristics of the measured vibrations, which is a necessary condition for modeling the star interior. Aerts and her research group also pioneered the development of powerful methods to model the vibrational modes in fast-rotating stars, leading to the first quantitative estimates of the masses of their turbulent stars and their internal rotation.