Decker French

Pasadena, CA— Carnegie’s K. Decker French was recognized by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific with its Robert J. Trumpler Award, which is presented to a recent Ph.D. graduate “whose research is considered unusually important to astronomy.” French completed her doctorate at the University of Arizona Tucson in 2017 and is currently a Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories.

Her research focuses on a radio survey of the gas clouds within galaxies that have recently ended the star-forming phase of their evolution.  The lack of star formation in these galaxies has long been assumed to be caused by a depletion of the cold, dense molecular gases needed to coalesce into new stars.  But by looking more carefully at these galaxies in radio wavelengths, French observed that these galaxies have plenty of cold gas to make stars, but that these gases are not in the dense state required to get the star-forming process going—a finding that fundamentally challenged a long-held assumption about “post-starburst galaxies.”

A nominator for the award called French’s discovery, “one of the most-important observational results in galaxy evolution in the last 10 years.”

If that weren’t enough, French’s dissertation described yet another groundbreaking discovery that “tidal disruption events,” or instances where a star passes too close to a super massive black hole and is torn apart by gravitational forces, are more common in post-starburst galaxies.  

“We are so proud of Decker’s achievement and honored to have her at Carnegie,” said Director John Mulchaey.  “I always tell people that the Carnegie Observatories’ postdoc program is one of the very best in the entire world and this award demonstrates that we are attracting the top early career scientists to work with us.”

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Astronomy/Cosmology