Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship awarded to Rebecca Smethurst

10 June 2020

Astrophysicist Dr Rebecca Smethurst from the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics has been awarded the Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship by the William Herschel Society with the Royal Astronomical Society. Becky is a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church.

‘I am absolutely thrilled to have been chosen to give the Caroline Herschel Prize Lecture,' she comments. 'Herschel was a giant of astronomy, and a trailblazer for women in science. It’s a privilege to have been chosen for an award in her honour.’

Supporting promising female astronomers

The prize supports promising female astronomers early in their careers and Becky will be invited to deliver a lecture at the University of Bath as part of the prestigious William Herschel Society’s Astronomy lecture series and again as a RAS public lecture. The lecture will focus on Becky’s recent research: supermassive black holes: the ultimate galaxy killers?

The prize lectureship was established to celebrate the memory of Caroline Herschel, William Herschel’s younger sister who started out as his assistant but over time, became recognised as an important astronomer in her own right. Becky was awarded the prize for her research accomplishments including applying state-of-the-art statistical tools to dissect the evolutionary paths of galaxies in the Universe, using large datasets such as Galaxy Zoo and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. She demonstrated that so-called ‘green valley’ galaxies, rather than being a homogeneous family, hide a variety of evolutionary paths and reveal how and when galaxies stop forming stars.

An enthusiastic science communicator

The award also recognises Becky’s extensive work as an enthusiastic science communicator. Her YouTube channel, Dr Becky has amassed more than 100,000 subscribers; her videos are both engaging and accessible and bring her research and the field uniquely to life. She pursues every opportunity to share her passion for her subject from regular radio spots to podcast discussions.

Professor Ian Shipsey, Head of the Department of Physics at Oxford adds: ‘Becky is a highly valued member of the Oxford physics family. Not only is she forwarding our understanding of the Universe but her tireless engagement work means that she is also bringing so many people along with her on the journey. I am very proud to have Becky as a colleague.’

The Royal Astronomical Society announced the news on 8 June.