COPERNICUS Award 2024 for Outstanding German-Polish Collaboration in Astrophysics

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Prof. Andrzej Udalski of the Warsaw University Astronomical Observatory and Prof. Dr. Joachim Wambsganß of the University of Heidelberg have been named winners of the tenth anniversary edition of the Polish-German COPERNICUS Research Prize, awarded jointly by the Foundation for Polish Science and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation).

In recognition of their achievements in connection with German-Polish collaboration in science and the humanities, Professor Dr. Joachim Wambsganß of Heidelberg University and Professor Dr. Andrzej Udalski of the University of Warsaw are the recipients of the COPERNICUS Award 2024, presented by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP).

The presentation of the award by DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker and FNP President Professor Dr. Maciej Żylicz will take place on 24 October in Berlin, combined with an anniversary event on the following day to mark the award’s tenth anniversary. Presented every two years, the award is endowed with €200,000.

The eight-member jury recognised Joachim Wambsganß and Andrzej Udalski for more than two decades of cross-border collaboration and their joint accomplishments in the search for and characterisation of exoplanets. The two researchers have been working together on this subject since 2003. Their research cooperation combines theoretical and analytical knowledge of the microlensing effect with the technical possibilities offered by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), which can be used to observe stars over extended periods of time.

Through their research work in collaborative international groups the two scientists succeeded for the first time in discovering a particularly low-mass planet outside our solar system that is “only” around five times heavier than the Earth. They also discovered that almost every star in the Milky Way is orbited by a planet. According to the jury, Wambsganß and Udalski have made a significant contribution to the exploration and understanding of planetary systems. Their findings have appeared in numerous publications, including the science journal Nature. They have attracted worldwide attention, both within the field of astrophysics and beyond.

With each researcher having lectured frequently in the partner country and involving their doctoral researchers and postdocs in their work, they have helped further intensify research links between Germany and Poland. According to the jury, it is to be expected that the collaboration between the two researchers will continue to advance research into exoplanets in the future.

Joachim Wambsganß studied astronomy and physics in Heidelberg and Munich, obtaining his doctorate in Munich. Postdoctoral positions in the US were followed by research activities at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching near Munich and the Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP). Finally, Wambsganß was appointed to Heidelberg University where he is still a professor at the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University (ZAH). Through his research he has developed effective theories and models on the use and effect of microlenses, earning him a global reputation in astrophysics and numerous awards, also in the field of science communication.

Andrzej Udalski completed his studies and obtained his doctorate in Warsaw, did postdoctoral research in Canada and was subsequently appointed professor at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Warsaw. He is regarded as a pioneer of astronomical observation using the microlensing effect. His greatest achievements include the establishment, expansion and further development of the OGLE astronomical observation project, for which he has received international awards. Among other distinctions, he has been awarded the Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the German Astronomical Society (AG), the FNP Prize, the most distinguished Polish science prize, and the Tycho Brahe Medal of the European Astronomical Society (EAS). Udalski is also a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN), the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences and the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The Copernicus Award has been presented every two years since 2006 to one academic personality from Germany and one from Poland. Award recipients may come from any scientific discipline. The award is named after the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and aims to reflect the close research collaboration between the two countries. The prize money is contributed in equal parts by the DFG and the FNP; the award winners each receive half and can use this sum for all academic purposes promoted through the programmes offered by the two organisations. One particular objective is to focus on intensifying joint support of researchers in early career phases.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is the central, independent research funding organisation in Germany. It serves all branches of science and the humanities by funding research projects at universities and other research institutions.

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