Professor Lisa Kewley was awarded the 133-year-old James Craig Watson Medal, presented by the US National Academy of Sciences, for her outstanding contributions to astronomy.
The ultimate multitasker, the South Australian native and mother of two’s research is at the coalface of the intersection between astrophysics and chemistry, focussing on the chemical properties and age of nearby galaxies, and on star formation.
Kewley is the director of ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3D in Canberra and received the award recognising outstanding contributions to the science of astronomy.
The prize, which includes $US25,000 personal endowment, $US50,000 for research support and a gold-plated bronze medal, was given to Kewley for her pioneering investigations in theory, modelling and observation as well as her studies into galaxy collisions, cosmic chemical abundances, galaxy energetics, and their star-formation.
“I am deeply honoured to have been awarded the James Craig Watson Medal,” says Kewley, whose work has been cited around the globe.
“It speaks to the strength of astronomy in Australia. In pursuing my academic passion, I have been fortunate to be able to collaborate with many talented and insightful scientists. I am also grateful that my work has been supported by the Australian National University, by ASTRO 3D, and by funding bodies such as the Australian Research Council.”
And she has been working hard to be a shining example to boost diversity in science and in astronomy in particular.
In 2019, Kewley published a paper in Nature Astronomy Diversity and Inclusion in Australian Astronomy.
She married her husband Reuben in Canberra in 2001, shortly before they moved to Boston. They have a son and a daughter, both born when she was living and working in Hawaii.
Kewley says that a working environment that supports women is crucial, and has called for a range of simple measures, which she says can make a huge difference.
“These measures include family-friendly meeting hours, childcare at conferences, support for young children to travel with their parent to conferences, part-time options for all positions, and a welcoming attitude towards children at the workplace.”
“When I was a student, there was only one woman in Australian astronomy with a permanent position.
I thought I would hit a glass ceiling and need to leave the field. Fortunately, Australian astronomy has made tremendous progress since that time.”
Kewley is leading the way in the theoretical modelling and observation of star-forming galaxies and active galaxies. A clearer understanding of the chemical composition of galaxies, gives us a picture of how and when galaxies were formed.