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Awards and Honors

UCSC astrophysicist Stan Woosley awarded the American Physical Society's 2005 Hans A. Bethe Prize

By Tim Stephens

The American Physical Society has awarded the 2005 Hans A. Bethe Prize to Stan Woosley, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UCSC. The Bethe Prize was established to recognize outstanding work in the areas of astrophysics, nuclear physics, and related fields.

Stan Woosley Tim Stephens photo

Woosley, an expert in theoretical high-energy astrophysics, studies the most violent explosions in the universe--supernovae (the massive explosions of dying stars) and gamma ray bursts (mysterious blasts of intense radiation). He has developed some of the most sophisticated computer simulations of supernova explosions and gamma-ray bursts, and his "collapsar" model of gamma-ray bursts is the leading theory explaining how they occur.

The Bethe Prize recognizes Woosley "for his significant and wide-ranging contributions in the areas of stellar evolution, element synthesis, the theory of core collapse and type Ia supernovae, and the interpretation of gamma-ray bursts--most notably, the collapsar model of gamma-ray bursts." The prize, consisting of $7,500 and a certificate, will be presented at the American Physical Society meeting in Tampa, Florida, in April 2005.

Woosley's work on the evolution of massive stars, which sets the stage for supernova explosions, helps explain how elements like oxygen and iron are formed. A supernova occurs when the core of a star collapses under the gravitational force of its own mass. The resulting explosion can be as bright as an entire galaxy, releasing immense amounts of energy. The explosion also spews into space all of the chemical elements forged by nuclear fusion reactions during the life of the star and some that are formed during the explosion itself. These materials may then contribute to the formation of new stars and planets.

According to Woosley's collapsar model, gamma-ray bursts arise from the collapse of stars that are too massive to successfully explode as supernovae.

Woosley is director of the Center for Supernova Research, funded by the Department of Energy and headquartered at UCSC. He is a co-investigator on the HETE-2 satellite, launched in 2002 to study gamma-ray bursts, and is involved in planning NASA's other missions for gamma-ray astronomy.

Hans A. Bethe won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1967 for his description of the nuclear processes that power the sun. The previous winner of the Bethe Prize is a UCSC alumnus, Wick Haxton of the University of Washington, who earned his B.A. in physics and mathematics at UCSC in 1971. For Woosley, the Bethe Prize is the second honor connected with this great physicist. In 2002, he was the Hans A. Bethe Distinguished Lecturer at Cornell University, where Bethe was a faculty member.

Woosley earned his B.A. in physics and M.S. and Ph.D. in astrophysics from Rice University. He joined the UCSC faculty in 1975 and has served three times as chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The Division of Physical and Biological Sciences honored him last year with its Outstanding Faculty Award for 2003-04. In 2001, Woosley was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1987.

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