2021 Magellanic Premium Medal

Sara Seager receiving the prize certificate.
APS President Linda Greenhouse (l) and Committee Chair Gordon Baym (r) presenting the Magellanic Premium to Sara Seager (c).

The recipient of the 2021 Magellanic Premium Medal is Sara Seager.  Sara Seager is a theoretical astrophysicist and leader in the exciting field of exoplanets, particularly in the quest to discover and analyze habitable planets beyond the solar system.  The citation inscribed on the medal is “For theoretical work that led to the first detection of exoplanet atmospheres.” The 2021 Magellanic Premium was presented at the Society's November 2022 Meeting.

Sara Seager is known for her work on exoplanet atmospheres and interiors; her modeling led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere.  She was the Deputy Director of Science for NASA’s TESS satellite, which to date has discovered 66 new exoplanets, all close enough to be imaged and searched for signatures of life. Her current research focuses on the bio-signatures in the atmospheres of potential life-bearing planets that could be used to discover evidence for extraterrestrial life.  She is a Professor of Physics, Professor of Planetary Science, and a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she holds the Class of 1941 Professor Chair. Her books include Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes, 2010, Exoplanets, 2010, and The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir, 2020.

Born in Toronto, Canada, she received her B.Sc. in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Toronto in 1994.  Dr. Seager did her Ph.D. work at Harvard where she developed theoretical models for atmospheres of exoplanets. Her honors include the Helen B. Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society, a MacArthur fellowship, and membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society (elected 2018).

The award was established from a gift of 200 guineas by John Hyacinth de Magellan, of London, in 1786, “for a gold medal to be awarded from time to time under prescribed terms, to the author of the best discovery or most useful invention relating to navigation, astronomy, or natural philosophy (mere natural history only excepted).”  The medal, named the Magellanic Premium, was first awarded in 1790.   It is the oldest medal recognizing scientific achievements given by a North American institution.

The selection committee members were Gordon Baym (chair), Professor Emeritus, Research Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Marvin Cohen, University Professor of Physics, University of California, Berkeley, Senior Faculty Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory; Jeremiah Ostriker, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University, Professor Emeritus of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University; and Michael Turner, Director, Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago.