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Professor Gilles Chabrier

Exeter astrophysicist honoured with top prize

An expert in studying distant planets at the University of Exeter has been awarded the highest prize for physics in France.

Professor Gilles Chabrier has been honoured with the Prix Jean Ricard for 2010. Awarded to just one person each year, the award features some illustrious figures among past recipients – including many Nobel Prize winners.

The award, given out by the Societé Francaise De Physique, recognises the huge contribution Professor Chabrier has made in the course of his pioneering work in the field of astrophysics throughout his career.

On receiving the award, he said: “It’s a great honour to be given this award. It’s the highest prize for physics in France, so the decades of work I’ve done mean something.

“Many years ago when I had just started studying for my PhD, one of the top researchers there won this very award. I remember going to his lectures and being very much in awe of him. I never thought that later in my life I would go on to win the same award. When you’re 25, you don’t think like that.”

Professor Chabrier had a background in theoretical physics before beginning study in the field of astrophysics – looking in particular, among other research subjects, at extrasolar planets, which are planets outside of our solar system.

In this rapidly developing area of science, Professor Chabrier, working with Professor Isabelle Baraffe who is presently group leader of the University’s Astrophysics group, pioneered some of the mathematical tools which are now used all over the world to study the formation, structure, and evolution of these distant worlds.

“Since I was a child I wanted to understand how things worked, why things are as they are”, said Professor Chabrier. “I love science because it helps us answer those questions, and I love astrophysics because it’s such an exciting field of study.

“We look at extrasolar planets from many viewpoints, and I suppose the holy grail at the end of it is discovering if there are any planets that can harbour life. Along the way, many of the tools we’re developing to study planets millions of light years away can help us understand our own planet and its climate.”

Professor Chabrier is a key member of the University’s Astrophysics team, which is recognised as one of the world’s leading groups in research on star formation and finding planets.

The study of extrasolar planets is a key part of the University’s Science Strategy, which aims to bring together academic staff from multiple disciplines to carry out cutting-edge research.

Date: 22 December 2010

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