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Prominent Poles

Aleksander (Alex) Wolszczan, Polish and US astronomer, discoverer of first planets beyond the Solar System, educator, Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize recipient

Photo of Aleksander Wolszczan, astronomer

Born:   1946, Szczecinek, Poland

Advanced degrees and early work.In 1969 he received an MS degree in Astronomy from the Copernicus University in Torun, Poland. From 1969 till 1973 he worked at the Department of Radioastronomy of the Institute of Astronomy of Copernicus University. In 1975 he got PhD in Physics for his work on pulsars from the same university. During the period 1979-1982 he worked at the Astronomical Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Torun.
Work in the USA.In 1982 he moved to USA to work at Cornell University in Ithaca and Princeton University. In 1992 he joined the faculty of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn State) in Philadelphia. Since 1994 he has been a professor at the University in Torun and a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN).
Professional successes. Discovery of extra solar planets.Prof. A. Wolszczan received in 1994 The Best of Whats New, Grand Award of Popular Science Magazine (1994). He carried out astronomical observation in the Arecibo Observatory, which led him to discovery of pulsar PSR B1257+12 in 1990. The data analysis gathered thanks to the discovery showed that two planets with mass 3.4 and 2.8 times that of Earth’s mass orbit the pulsar. Their orbits are 0.36 and 0.47 AU respectively. This planetary system was the first extra-solar system discovered in the Universe whose existence was proved. According to professor Bohdan Paczynski (Princeton) “this is the greatest discovery by a Polish astronomer since Copernicus.” Wolszczan presented his findings in 1992 at the Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Atlanta. In 1994 he published the results of his discovery and was selected by the journal Nature as the author of one of 15 fundamental discovery in Physics published by this journal. In spite of initial misgivings of some experts today his discovery is regarded fully substantiated.
Honors and distinctions. In 1996 the American Astronomical Society has announced selection of Aleksander Wolszczan, as the recipient of its prestigious Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize. The prize recognizes an outstanding research contribution that is of an exceptionally creative or innovative character and that has played a seminal role in furthering the understanding of the universe. According to the society, Wolszczan was selected for his "creative and innovative analysis of binary and relativistic pulsars culminating in the discovery of a system of planets outside our solar system." He also received the Casimir Funk Natural Sciences Award from the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America. In 1998 Professor Wolszczan was awarded by the President of Poland Commander Cross of the Order of Merit. Also in 1998 Alexander Wolszczan, distinguished professor of astronomy and astrophysics, has been named Evan Pugh Professor, the highest honor Penn State bestows on a faculty member. Evan Pugh professorships are awarded to faculty members whose "research publications or creative work or both have been of the highest quality over a period of time, and further to candidates who show evidence of having contributed significantly to the education of students who later achieve recognition for excellence in the candidates' discipline or interdisciplinary areas." "His relentless pursuit of a long-range program for the development of innovative hardware and data-analysis techniques has produced many outstanding results and has pushed experimental capabilities well beyond their existing limits," says Peter Meszaros, professor and head of the department of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State. In 2002 the Polish Post Office issued a stamp honoring Aleksander Wolszczan. Professor Wolszczan is a member of many scientific societies among others American Astronomical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Union of Radio Science, International Astronomical Union.

This article uses, among others, material from the Wikipedia article "Aleksander Wolszczan" licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. :
Fundacja na rzecz nauki..(in Polish)
Cornell award
Penn State award

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Prominent Poles