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Astronomer Jos de Boer receives Chesneau Prize for best dissertation

Astronomer Jos de Boer has received the Chesneau Prize in Nice for his research into so-called protoplanetary disks. The prize is awarded to the best astronomical dissertation in the field of high angular resolution. 'I consider it a good opportunity to talk about my research.'

Broad scope

Jos de Boer obtained his PhD at the Leiden Observatory under Christoph Keller and is currently a postdoc there. According to the jury, it was mainly the breadth of his research that earned De Boer this prize. 'Apparently it was appreciated that I did not only study protoplanetary disks – or the instrument – but that I was able to combine both in order to achieve better results', he says. 

Jos de Boer and Thierry Lanz, director of the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur (photo: Christophe Marcade)

'A great honour'

'It is of course a great honour that I received this prize for my thesis', says de Boer. 'But above all, I see it as a good opportunity to talk about my research.' As part of the prize, De Boer was invited to present his research at the national meeting of French astronomers in Nice and at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in the German town of Garching bei München.

Birth of young stars

De Boer studied the formation of planets around young stars. In the early stages of life, a star is surrounded by an enormous disk of dust and gas. 'We call this a protoplanetary disk, because the matter in this disk can give rise to planets', explains De Boer. In order to investigate how and when planets form in these disks, astronomers want to create images of these disks with the highest possible level of detail, in other words with a high spatial resolution.

Unique measurements

'Only since recently do we have the right instruments for this', says De Boer. With one such instrument, SPHERE at the Very Large Telescope in Chile, he looked at many different protoplanetary disks. 'For example, I managed to make a direct measurement of the thickness of these disks, which previously could only be determined on the basis of models. In addition, I have performed calibrations so that we can now do much more accurate measurements with SPHERE. This is not only useful for research on these disks, but also for the characterization of exoplanets.'

The Chesneau Prize is awarded every two years to a bright PhD student in the field of High Angular Resolution Astronomy, and comes with a certificate and €1000. It was established in 2015 by the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur and the European Southern Observatory in memory of Olivier Chesneau. He led pioneering scientific projects using visible and infrared long-baseline interferometry.

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