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2008 Dutch Christiaan Huygens Science Award to Dr. Mariska Kriek

October 15th, 2008

Image Caption: Mariska Kriek works outside on Mauna Kea while in Hawaii for an observing run at Gemini.

Astronomer Dr. Mariska Kriek has been selected for The Netherlands Christiaan Huygens Science Award for 2008 in the discipline of Space Science. The jury awarded the prize for her dissertation 'The Many Phases of Massive Galaxies, a Near-Infrared spectroscopic study of Galaxies in the Early Universe,’ which she defended on September 26, 2007 at Leiden University. Kriek will receive the award on October 16, 2008. It will be presented by R.H.A. Plasterk the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science.

Mariska Kriek (Leiden, 1979) studied astronomy at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She received her Master’s Degree in August 2003 and from 2003 to 2007 she performed Ph.D. research on the evolution of galaxies in the young universe. On the basis of her dissertation, she was declared ‘Researcher of the Year 2007' by the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Leiden University. Her supervisors, Prof., Dr. M. Franx (Leiden) and Prof., Dr. P.G. van Dokkum (Yale University), guided her on this work. Kriek is currently working as a H.N. Russell Fellow at the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University, USA. The jury, which this year consisted of Prof., Dr. G.K. Miley (Chairman), Prof., Dr. J.A.M. Bleeker, Prof., Dr. E.P.J. van den Heuvel and Prof., Dr. R.T. Schilizzi, unanimously selected Kriek’s dissertation from all of the nominations submitted by Dutch research schools and universities.

In her award-winning thesis Kriek studied the properties of massive galaxies in the 'early' universe. For three years, Dr. Kriek obtained a large number of observations in the near-infrared with large astronomical telescopes, including the Gemini South telescope using the Gemini Near-Infrared Spectrograph (GNIRS).

In her work Kriek discovered that many galaxies in the early universe consist primarily of old stars. The finding is important because it appears that these stars all formed earlier in the history of the universe than many researchers previously assumed. The galaxies she studied all were about 11 billion years away, thus allowing her to look back in time to an earlier epoch in the history of the universe. It appears, surprisingly, that virtually all these galaxies have the same color, (a so-called "red sequence"), well-known for galaxies in the nearby universe, but not previously detected in the early universe. Kriek also presented models that can explain the colors.

Since 1998 the Christiaan Huygens Science Award has been presented annually to a researcher who recently defended their work which contributed in a major way to scientific progress (the research should also be socially relevant). The award focuses on five scientific disciplines which are related to the work of Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), these are: Actuarial and econometrics, Theoretical Physics, Space Science, Information and Communication Technology and Economic Sciences. Each year the award, which consists of a tax-free amount of €10,000, a certificate and a bronze figurine of Christiaan Huygens, is made to one of these five disciplines and Space Science is this year’s topic. The award aims to stimulate contacts between universities and business and to promote the inflow of students in the sciences.