2017 Petrie Prize

The 2017 R. M. Petrie Prize is awarded to Dr. Charles Beichman for his incredible career contributions to the study of extrasolar planetary systems.

Dr. Beichman is currently the Executive Director of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech, which is the focus of exoplanet research at NASA. Dr. Beichman’s search for evidence of planetary systems is long-standing, dating back to the first detections of planetary systems with IRAS through the Spitzer Space Telescope and now looking forward to the James Webb Space Telescope. He has published many key papers on Kuiper Belt and Asteroid Belt analogs around other stars and has developed analysis tools that were essential to several breakthrough observational results.

For the past 10 years Dr. Beichman has been closely associated with and helped to formulate NASA’s program to search for planets around other stars, serving as Chair of the Science Working Group for the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) and authoring numerous articles and reports on TPF and the search for terrestrial and ultimately habitable planets. He is also involved in extensive outreach efforts that include appearances on several programs about space.

It is an honour to add Dr. Beichman’s name to the long list of distinguished past Petrie Prize recipients.

2017 Qilak Award

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Pierre Chastenay of the Université du Québec à Montréal as the 2017 recipient of the Qilak Award.

Dr. Chastenay received his MSc in Astrophysics from Université Laval, in Quebec City, in 1987. He then embarked on a remarkable career in public science communications and earned a PhD in Science Education from Université de Montréal in 2013.

Dr. Chastenay has been a leader in astronomy education and outreach in Canada for over 30 years. He led the development of over 100 long-running programs at the Planétarium de Montréal from 1988 to 2013. He was host of 156 episodes of Téléscience from 1996 to 2007 and over 200 episodes of Le Code Chastenay, which won a Prix Gémeaux in 2016. As a professor at UQAM, he has been creating educational materials for both students and teachers, and he has effectively been training a new generation of science teachers. The sheer breadth of his achievements (TV/radio, books, articles, planetarium programs) has earned him the prestigious distinction of becoming Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Pléiade.

CASCA is delighted to recognize Dr. Chastenay’s long and distinguished record of outstanding contributions to communicating astronomy to Canadians.


La Société canadienne d’astronomie CASCA a le plaisir de remettre le Prix Qilak 2017 au Professeur Pierre Chastenay, de l’Université du Québec à Montréal.

Pr. Chastenay a complété une maîtrise en astrophysique à l’Université Laval (Québec) en 1987, avant d’entreprendre une remarquable carrière en communication scientifique auprès du grand public. En 2013, il a complété un doctorat en didactique des sciences à l’Université de Montréal.

Pr. Chastenay est un chef de file en éducation en astronomie et en communication avec le public depuis plus de 30 ans. Au Planétarium de Montréal, il a produit ou réalisé plus de 100 spectacles de planétarium entre 1988 et 2013. Il a animé 156 épisodes de l’émission de vulgarisation scientifique Téléscience entre 1996 et 2007 et plus de 200 épisodes du Code Chastenay (gagnant d’un Prix Gémeaux en 2016). Comme professeur de didactique des sciences à l’UQAM, il a conçu du matériel éducatif tant pour les élèves que les enseignants. La somme de ses accomplissements (télévision et radio, livres, articles, spectacles de planétarium) lui a mérité la prestigieuse distinction de devenir Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Pléiade.

La Société canadienne d’astronomie CASCA est fière de souligner la longue et prolifique carrière du Pr. Chastenay et ses contributions exceptionnelles à l’éducation en astronomie du public canadien.

2017 J. S. Plaskett Medal

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Fereshteh Rajabi as the 2017 recipient of the J. S. Plaskett Medal.

Dr. Rajabi completed her doctoral studies at the University of Western Ontario under the supervision of Dr. Martin Houde. Her thesis entitled “Dicke’s Superradiance in Astrophysics” extends the mathematical description of this intriguing physical process to many phenomena of astrophysical interest. Superradiance is a quantum mechanical and coherent behaviour between closely spaced atoms or molecules (i.e., several within a wavelength) that makes them, when certain conditions are met, emit radiation that is much more focused and intense than expected. Dr. Rajabi used superradiance to elegantly explain anomalous fluxes in the 21cm line of hydrogen atom and unexplained maser flares and bursts in the envelopes of evolved stars. She made fundamental physical advances that brought superradiance out of the lab and into an ever more surprising Universe. Her work has attracted worldwide attention not only in astrophysics, but also in the field of quantum optics.

CASCA congratulates Dr. Rajabi on the receipt of the 2016 Plaskett medal for her highly original work to advance our understanding of fascinating transient phenomena in the Universe.

Inaugural Richer Gold Medal

CASCA is pleased to announce that the recipient of the inaugural Harvey B. Richer Gold Medal is Dr. David Lafrenière of the Université de Montréal.

Dr. Lafrenière earned his PhD in 2007 from the Université de Montréal and went on to the University of Toronto as a postdoctoral fellow. He returned to Montréal in 2009 and joined the faculty in 2011. David has received many prestigious awards and honours such as Scientist of the Year 2008 – Société Radio-Canada, the 2010 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, the 2010 NSERC John C. Polanyi Award, and the Medal of Honours of the Assemblée Nationale, Province de Québec.

Dr. Lafrenière is an expert in the field of exoplanet imaging who has made a substantial and significant impact very early in his career. He is among the few people to have led the first imaging discoveries of exoplanets. David’s early work on 1RXSJ1609-2105b has yielded one of the best spectroscopic/photometric datasets ever secured on a gas giant exoplanet. He is the inventor of a mathematically rigorous statistical method called the Locally Optimized Combination of Images (LOCI) algorithm, which was designed to improve contrast achieved in astronomical images. LOCI has become the worldwide gold standard in the analysis of high-contrast images. He also conducted the Gemini Deep Planet Survey (GDPS), the first statistically significant exoplanet imaging survey, which provided one of the best constraints ever obtained on the gas giant planet frequency in wide orbits around main sequence stars. He was a member of the team that first imaged a multi-planet system orbiting another star (HR8799). He is currently the leader of a major exoplanet transit and eclipse spectroscopy program for the Canadian-built NIRISS instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope. It has been said that, if a space mission does one day detect an Earthlike planet and reveal oxygen in its atmosphere, it will do so using techniques descended from Dr. Lafrenière’s LOCI.

In addition to his impressive scientific and technical achievements, it is worth noting Dr. Lafrenière’s extensive service to the Canadian astronomical community. Indeed, he has served on a number of important committees (e.g., JCSA, CanTAC) as well as on science teams for cutting-edge instruments with significant Canadian involvement such as CFHT/SPIROU, Gemini/GPI, and JWST/NIRISS.

Please join CASCA in congratulating Dr. Lafrenière for being awarded the Richer Medal in recognition of his significant and sustained early career research in astronomy.

2017 Martin Award

CASCA is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2017 Peter G. Martin award is Dr. Ingrid Stairs of the University of British Columbia.

After receiving her PhD in 1998 from Princeton University, Dr. Stairs went to the University of Manchester from 1998 to 2000 to pursue postdoctoral work. She then continued her research at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory from 2000 to 2002 as a Jansky Fellow. She joined the faculty at UBC in 2002 and became a tenured professor in 2007. The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research appointed her as Senior Fellow in 2014.

Dr. Stairs is one of world’s experts on pulsars and has made significant contributions to radio astronomy instrumentation. She developed the novel Princeton Mark IV back-end instrument for use at the Arecibo telescope for high-precision timing of relativistic pulsars that was used in the discovery of general-relativistic orbital decay of the binary pulsar PSR B1534+12. She made the first measurement of the Shapiro delay, which continues to enable multiple new tests of General Relativity. She is involved in the development of instrumentation for the upcoming CHIME radio telescope that will observe pulsars as well as the cosmological distribution of hydrogen. She is the Observational Coordinator for the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav).

CASCA congratulates Dr. Stairs on the receipt of the 2017 Martin Award for her fundamental contributions to radio astronomy instrumentation and the understanding of pulsars that have shed new light on General Relativity.