JJ Hermes wins the 2013 David Benfield Memorial Fellowship in Astronomy

12 November 2012

jj hermes

JJ Hermes

JJ Hermes has been awarded the 2013 David Benfield Memorial Fellowship in Astronomy, which recognizes outstanding research by a senior graduate.

JJ has co-authored 14 refereed publications since 2010, with 8 papers and counting already in 2012. 6 of his refereed papers are as first author. His discoveries include three entirely new classes of objects and two new phenomena.

Much of his recent work revolves around the Extremely Low Mass (ELM) white dwarf stars and the binary systems that contain them. This includes finding ellipsoidal variations, from tidally distorted white dwarf stars, on timescales shorter than an hour, and in several systems, measurements of relativistic beaming. Last year, he discovered a double-eclipsing detached binary ELM system with a 12.7-minute orbital period. Follow up measurements this year, made mostly on the 2.1m telescope, determined the orbital decay of the two stars for comparison with the number expected from General Relativity.

JJ discovered the first ELM pulsating star, opening the door to asteroseismic study of He-core white dwarf stars, leading to a paper, just submitted, entitled, “Discovery of Pulsations, Including Potential Pressure Modes, in Two New Extremely Low Mass, He-Core White Dwarfs.” The paper describes the discoveries that make the ELM pulsating variables (ELMVs) a class, as well as the first discovery of pressure-mode pulsations in a white dwarf star.

In addition to his participation in the discovery of two extrasolar planets around NN Serpens in 2010, he has also found evidence for new secular timescales, of mysterious origin, in normal mass white dwarf stars.

His science has had an immediate and large impact, and coverage of his discoveries can be found in many magazines, including Scientific American, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, The New Scientist, Cosmos, and a Research Highlight in Nature.

Perhaps most significant, is a concluding quote from the recent National Science Foundation (NSF) Portfolio Review, recognizing the impact that JJ's work on ELMs has had on the NSF: "Finally, large optical surveys to identify more white dwarfs—and in particular exotic ones, such as those with masses <0.2 Msun—are essential to improving our understanding of formation channels beyond that leading to a standard carbon-oxygen remnant." ("Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade: Opportunities and Challenges", NSF Portfolio Review, p. 49).

Thanks to Don Winget (research supervisor)