Former Center for Astrophysics researcher Jane Huang is the recipient of the 2021 Robert J. Trumpler Award. The award is presented annually by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) to a recent PhD recipient whose research is considered unusually important to astronomy.
Huang earned a PhD in astrophysics from Harvard in 2020 under the mentorship of Sean Andrews and Karin Öberg. Her dissertation, “Rings and Spirals in Protoplanetary Disks: the ALMA View of Planet Formation,” was described by one nominator as “iconic work, masterfully done, by a student who is writing her ticket to the top of a fast-growing field.” Another called her dissertation “a once-in-a-decade thesis in millimeter astronomy as well as in protoplanetary disks and planet formation studies.”
Huang’s research took advantage of the sensitivity and precision of the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) to image protoplanetary disks with amazing detail to uncover the surprising amount of substructure inside. These ubiquitous structures, which include multiple rings, spirals and other features, are images of new solar systems being formed.
The work revealed how radial gas and dust substructures are key to understanding the formation and chemical composition of young planets. The landmark research will help theorists develop better models of planet formation and inform how researchers will use the next generation of infrared and optical instruments to study distant solar systems as they form.