Astronomer Ruth Murray-Clay appointed to chair in theoretical astrophysics

Investiture ceremony honors Murray-Clay as the inaugural holder of the E. K. Gunderson Family Chair in Theoretical Astrophysics

Ruth Murray-Clay

Astrophysicist Ruth Murray-Clay gave a brief overview of her research on planetary systems at the investiture ceremony. (Photos by Steve Kurtz)

James Gunderson

James Gunderson described how he and his wife Valerie Boom were inspired to establish the E. K. Gunderson Family Chair in Theoretical Astrophysics.

Ruth Murray-Clay, James Gunderson and Valerie Boom

Ruth Murray-Clay with James Gunderson and Valerie Boom

Ruth Murray-Clay, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, was honored as the inaugural holder of the E. K. Gunderson Family Chair in Theoretical Astrophysics at an investiture ceremony on Wednesday, March 1, at the University Center.

The chair was established in 2016 with a $160,000 gift from James L. Gunderson and Valerie J. Boom to support recruitment of a faculty member in astronomy and astrophysics. The chair honors the work of Gunderson's father, a psychologist whose work on human adaptation to confined and extreme conditions was used by NASA in understanding the implications of space travel.

Murray-Clay studies the formation and evolution of the solar system and of planetary systems around other stars. She explores a broad range of physical processes that contribute to the ultimate structure of planetary systems, including the evolution of the protoplanetary disk, planet formation, gravitational dynamics, and the evolution of atmospheres. She also studies objects in the outer reaches of our solar system for clues to its dynamical evolution.

"I am excited and honored to be here and to be the recipient of this chair," said Murray-Clay, who joined the UCSC astronomy faculty in 2016. She received her bachelor's degree in physics and astronomy at Harvard University and her master's and Ph.D. degrees in astrophysics at UC Berkeley. In 2015, Murray-Clay won the Helen B. Warner Prize for Astronomy, which recognizes the exceptional contributions of astronomers under the age of 36.

Increasing support for faculty chairs is a priority of the Campaign for UC Santa Cruz, which has raised $311 million for the campus. The Gunderson Family Chair in Theoretical Astrophysics is a four-year term chair (not an endowed chair) specially designed to augment the startup funding the campus provides for new faculty. Paul Koch, dean of physical and biological sciences, said such chairs provide important support for a new faculty member's research and graduate students. "The support from these chairs allows us to be competitive and attract the best faculty," he said.

The Campaign for UC Santa Cruz supports excellence across the university through increased private investment in the people and ideas shaping the future. It is bringing critical new resources to the student experience, excellence in research, and the campus commitment to environmental and social justice.