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The 2019 MERAC Prize for the Best Early Career Researcher in Theoretical Astrophysics is awarded to Dr Nikku Madhusudhan from Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy.

Nikku Madhusudhan has made pioneering contributions to exoplanetary science which include precise chemical characterisation of exoplanetary atmospheres, detailed studies of atmospheric and interior processes, and using exoplanetary compositions as tracers of their formation mechanisms. His work has led to several new insights into exoplanetary atmospheres, including constraints on non-equilibrium chemistry, temperature inversions, molecular abundances, and C/O ratios. His recent studies have led to major advances in exoplanetary science in three frontier areas:

  1. high-precision chemical characterization of exoplanetary atmospheres using state-of-the-art observations   
  2. detailed constraints on exoplanetary atmospheric processes, and 
  3. new approaches to constrain exoplanetary formation and migration pathways using their atmospheric chemical abundances. 

The pioneering work by Nikku Madhusudhan in the last five years (2014 - 2018) was conducted at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. Prior to 2014, his seminal research was carried out in the USA.

Nikku Madhusudhan is a Reader in Astrophysics and Exoplanetary Science at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. He pursued his undergraduate studies at the Indian Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, India. He then moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, where he obtained a Masters degree in Engineering in 2004 and a PhD in Physics (Astrophysics Division) in 2009. He pursued his postdoctoral research at MIT (2009 - 2010), Princeton University (2010 - 2011), and Yale University (2012 - 2013) where he was the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics Prize Postdoctoral Fellow. In October 2013, he joined the University of Cambridge as Lecturer, and was promoted in 2017 to Reader. He was awarded the prestigious Bappu Gold Medal in Astrophysics for 2014 by the Astronomical Society of India and the 2016 Young Scientist Medal of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics Commission on Astrophysics, before the present 2019 MERAC Prize by the European Astronomical Society. His research interests span a wide range of theoretical topics in exoplanetary science, including exoplanetary atmospheres, interiors, and planetary formation.

Date awarded

21 March 2019

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