Yoram Lithwick, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, has received a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation).

The program recognizes and supports early career development of teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. The minimum award size is $400,000 for a five-year period.

“The award provides me and my group with stable research support for the next five years, which will allow us to devote much of our energies to solving scientific puzzles,” said Lithwick, who is a member of Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics.

He conducts research on a variety of topics in theoretical astrophysics, including planets, disks around stars, convection in stars and formation of cosmological haloes. Recently he has been focusing on understanding how planets form and how planetary systems evolve.

Lithwick particularly is interested in explaining the observed properties of exoplanets, planets orbiting stars other than the sun. Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered in recent years, but many of their properties are completely unexpected and have yet to be understood.

Lithwick received the award for his proposal “Planet Formation in the Age of Kepler.” The thousands of exoplanets likely hold the key for understanding how planets and planetary systems formed and evolved, Lithwick said. He will use the award to develop theories for this and to test these theories by comparing their predictions against the many observed properties of exoplanets.

As part of his award, Lithwick also will work with Chicago-area high school students and their teachers to bring to them the excitement of exoplanets and research in this young field of study.

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