Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trieste Science Prize Winner: Beatriz Barbuy

The Trieste Science Prize is awarded each year to two scientists for "scientific research of outstanding international merit carried out at institutions in developing countries." The prizes are awarded in different fields each year. This year's award in Earth, Space, Ocean and Atmosphereic Sciences went to Beatriz Barbuy, a Brazilian astrophysicist.

Barbuy is a professor in the Department of Astronomy, at the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and a Vice-President of the International Astronomical Union. According to the award site:

Barbuy's research has shed light on the formation of the Milky Way through studies of its oldest components. She was the first to demonstrate that metal-poor stars in the galactic halo (the faint sphere surrounding the galactic disk) have an overabundance of oxygen, relative to iron. This indicates that the halo was chemically enriched by 'supernova' explosions of massive first-generation stars, which may have been 500 times the size of the sun.


Barbuy is an expert in both observational astronomy and the analysis and interpretation of spectroscopic data. Through the use of spectroscopy, astronomers are able to separate light coming from stars into wavelength spectra, from which they can derive the stars' chemical composition and other information. Her skills in spectroscopy have allowed her to assemble a large library of synthetic spectra that has aided many other researchers in their investigations of our own and other galaxies.
There's a 2004 story about her at Folha Online. It's in Portuguese, so I'm unfortunately stuck with a crude translation, but here's a bit:
Shining in one seara where the numbers show certain balance between men and women (in [her] department they are 12 teachers, for a total of 21, and in the Brazilian Astronomical Society, the women represent 42 % of the members), the scientist never says to have suffered discrimination. But thinks: "I believe that the women have to do something more than men to be well recognized like professionals".
If you can read Portuguese, you should definitely read the original.

Image: 2008 winners of the Trieste Science Prize. Beatriz Barbuy, winner in Earth, Space, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and Roddam Narasimha, winner in Engineering Sciences.
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