Astronomer J. Xavier Prochaska honored for top research paper in Science

J. Xavier Prochaska
J. Xavier Prochaska, distinguished professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, and his coauthors of a landmark paper describing a fast radio burst from a massive galaxy have been chosen to receive the prestigious Newcomb Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The prize is given annually to the authors of an outstanding paper published in the association's journal Science.

UCSC graduate student Sunil Simha is also a coauthor of the paper and made substantial contributions. Prochaska and Simha were part of an international team that determined the precise location of a fast radio burst, a powerful burst of cosmic radio waves, for the first time ever from a single pulse.

Prochaska coordinated the team’s follow-up observations of the galaxy from which the burst originated, using three of the world’s largest optical telescopes. The observations revealed that these mysterious signals originate in massive galaxies like our own Milky Way.

The prize-winning paper, “A single fast radio burst localized to a massive galaxy at cosmological distance,” was published in Science online on June 27, 2019, and in print on August 9, 2019. It was one of several high-impact papers on fast radio bursts published by Prochaska and his colleagues in 2019 and 2020.

Prochaska's research sheds light on early cosmology and structure formation in the universe, including the formation and evolution of galaxies. Three times in the previous decade (2011, 2014, and 2015), his discoveries have been recognized by the editors of Physics World, Science, or Astronomy as among the top scientific breakthroughs of the year. He received the Outstanding Faculty Award from the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences in 2017.

Every year hundreds of ground-breaking research papers are published in the journal Science, but only one is selected for the prestigious AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, the association’s oldest award. The best paper is chosen based on the impact in its field and its wider, interdisciplinary significance.

The authors of the winning study will receive the award in a virtual ceremony on February 10 during the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting.