University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences



April 11, 2022

Theo O’Neill wants to understand how stars are formed. They will now pursue their research as recently named a Goldwater Scholar. Goldwater Scholarships are awarded through a partnership between the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Defense Education Programs and the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. Read more...

UVA Astronomers Will Map the Unmapped in Outer Space

April 7, 2022

Three University of Virginia astronomers research projects were selected for the first cycle of the James Webb Telescope’s General Observer programs. Assistant professor L. Ilsedore “Ilse” Cleeves and postdoctoral fellows Yao-Lun Yang and Jon Ramsey of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Astronomy were awarded telescope time for their three separate proposals. Read more...

Ilse Cleeves Named Cottrell Scholar

February 24, 2022

Ilse Cleeves, astronomy, University of Virginia, is among 24 outstanding teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics, and astronomy named recipients of Research Corporation for Science Advancement’s 2022 Cottrell Scholar Awards. Each award is $100,000.    


Recipients are chosen through a rigorous peer-review process of applications from a wide variety of public and private research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions in the United States and Canada. Their award proposals incorporate both research and science education.


Read the full announcement. 

Cottrell Scholars from 1994-2021 


Research Corporation for Science Advancement, founded in 1912, is a private foundation that funds early stage, high-potential basic research in the physical sciences (astronomy, chemistry, physics, and related fields) at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.  


Dr. Ilse Cleeves stands in front of the historic McCormick Telescope

Professor John Hawley has passed away after a long fight with cancer

December 13, 2021


It is with incredible sadness that we announce the passing of Professor John Hawley after a long fight with cancer. In addition to being a brilliant scientist and dedicated advocate for the Astronomy Department and UVA as a whole, John was a valued mentor and colleague, and his sharp wit will be missed. 


John received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1984. After a Bantrell Prize Fellowship in Theoretical Astrophysics at CalTech, he was hired at UVA in the Astronomy Department in 1987. His 15 years of leadership here were comprised of Department Chair for two terms, Associate Dean for the Sciences for two terms, and as AD for Academic Affairs and Senior AD for Academic Affairs these last two years. 


John's primary research interest was the physics of gas accretion. While accretion is ubiquitous in the universe, the physical mechanism that drives it was not well understood. In our daily lives, when water comes out of a tap, it spirals inward and goes down the drain due to friction with the walls of the sink. The equivalent source of friction for accretion was assumed to be turbulence in the gas flow, but the origin of that turbulence was a mystery for almost two decades. In the 1990’s, working with Steven Balbus, John identified a powerful instability in magnetized gases that drives the turbulent flow, allowing a detailed understanding of the accretion process. Today, the “magnetorotational instability” is applied to study a wide variety of celestial objects, from accretion disks around black holes to the disks from which stars and planets form.  


John’s research accomplishments were widely recognized. He was the 1993 recipient of the Helen B. Warner Prize for Astronomy of the American Astronomical Society. He and Steve Balbus shared the 2013 Shaw Prize in Astronomy for their discovery, which included a US $1 million cash award. He was awarded the Hamilton Chair in Astronomy in 2014. 


John also contributed fundamental insights in computational astrophysics. With the recognition that many fluid dynamics processes are too complicated to understand with pencil and paper calculations, he was a leader in developing numerical algorithms to solve for the evolution of magnetized fluids, allowing a detailed study of their behavior. With these computational tools, he and his collaborators were able to study disk accretion of gas, the formation of jets, the efficiency of disks in emitting radiation, as well as the effects of general relativity on the gas flow. As an expert in high-performance computing, he advocated for the Rivanna computer cluster which now serves the large-scale computing needs of many UVA researchers. 


John’s sense of humor was legendary. Whether it was at faculty meetings, or the Kovalenko dinner speeches, or even the Chairs and Director’s meetings for the College, you always knew he could find something funny even in the driest topics and most arcane details. He will be sorely missed. We wish his wife, Katherine Holcomb, and all his family comfort at this challenging time. 


Phil Arras
Astronomy Department Chair

UVA Today Article:

John F. Hawley, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences and John Downman Hamilton Professor of Astronomy, died of cancer on December 12, 2021 at his home in Earlysville.  He was 63.  He had a distinguished career as an astrophysicist.  He won the Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society in 1994.  In 2013 he shared the Shaw Prize in Astronomy with former UVA colleague Steven Balbus for their work on the mechanism underlying gas accretion around black holes.  He was a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society. In 2006 he was appointed chair of the Astronomy Department; in 2012 he moved to the Dean’s office as Associate Dean for the Sciences.   In 2020 he took on his final administrative role as AD for Academic Affairs.  He was a brilliant scientist, an able administrator, and a loving husband, son, brother, and uncle.  His sharp sense of humor was legendary.  He is survived by his wife, Katherine Holcomb, brothers Steve (Eileen) and Jim (Amy), sister Diane (Bernie Robe), nephew Aaron and niece Jamie, and mother Jeanne Hawley.  He was predeceased by his father, Bernard Hawley. In lieu of flowers please send memorial contributions to the CASPCA, Caring for Creatures (Palmyra), The Nature Conservancy, or a similar charity of your choice.

Galaxy Collisions Preview Milky Way's Fate

November 23, 2021

Professor Aaron Evans and co-author Lee Armus discuss what might happen when the Milky Way meets the Andromeda Galaxy in this month's Scientific American:


Image: Forecasted future: An illustration shows a possible view of the merging Milky Way–Andromeda system as seen from Pluto, which may get tossed to the galaxy's outskirts, along with the solar system. Credit: Ron Miller

Research Corporation Backs a Radical New Approach to Astronomical Imaging

August 25, 2021

A 12-megapixel digital camera can capture an image composed of roughly 12 million pieces of information and is all most of us need to take stunning vacation photos or family portraits suitable for framing. However, if you’re an astronomer taking detailed images of celestial bodies that are thousands to millions of light years away, it’s nowhere near good enough. But thanks to a Cottrell SEED Award from the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement, UVA astronomer Steven Majewski may be one step closer to developing a technology that makes taking vivid panoramic snapshots of distant stars and galaxies something more than just the stuff of science fiction.  More here:

Nitya Kallivayalil invited to Awesome-Con

August 23, 2021

Nitya Kallivayalil was invited by NSF to sit on a Dark Matter/Dark Energy panel at Awesome-Con ( this past weekend. Other panelists included Joe Pesce (moderator), Zohreh Davoudi, Carter Hall, Marc Kamionkowski and Charles Keeton.

Girls Exploring the Universe (GETU) 2021 Virtual Summer Camp

July 20, 2021

We are now accepting applications for the Online Girls Exploring the Universe (GETU) camp. This program offers an astronomy focused experience for middle school-aged kids primarily in Albemarle and nearby counties. We will be fully online this year, with activities spanning two weekends in mid August from 1-3pm EDT each day. Each camp day will offer a different set of activities and campers are free to join any or all days of the camp as their schedule allows. We will be preparing materials for the hands on activities ahead of time, so campers only need an internet connection to join in!

When: August 14th, 15th, 21st, and 22nd from 1 - 3 pm.
Where: Online

Please apply by July 24th, 2021 so the materials have enough time to be assembled: Campers will have the option of picking up or receiving their kits by mail. .

Seed Funding for Stellar Populations Research in the Local Universe

July 14, 2021

The Owens Family Foundation has selected Nitya Kallivayalil as a recipient of their funding in the amount of $84,000 per year over a three year period. This gift will be used to further her research in near field cosmology and will enable the hiring of a prize postdoctoral fellow to work on resolved stellar populations in the local universe. The Owens Family Foundation has historically funded groundbreaking basic science research that is high risk high reward with a focus on methodological developments.

Xinlun Cheng wins a Jefferson Graduate Fellowship

May 28, 2021


The Jefferson Scholars Foundation has announced the names of 29 students selected to receive one of its graduate fellowships; 25 selected to receive a Jefferson Fellowship and four selected to receive a National Fellowship. More information here:

Amina Diop named as first John F. Angle Graduate Fellow in Astronomy

May 20, 2021

The Astronomy Department is pleased to announce that Amina Diop has been selected as the first John F. Angle Graduate Fellow in Astronomy. The Angle Fellowships are funded by a gift from Carol Angle and Fritz Angle. They honor Dr. John F. Angle MD (below), who is a nationally and internationally recognized leader in vascular and interventional radiology at UVa. He specializes in minimally invasive techniques to treat peripheral arterial disease, aortic aneurysm disease, venous insufficiency, venous thromboembolic disease, dialysis access maintenance, and cancerous tumors.

Amina Diop is entering UVa as a new Ph.D. graduate student this fall. She got her BA in Astrophysics & Arabic from Williams College, with a semester at the University College London. Amina is from Senegal, and has studied Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Math and Physics at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her research interests are astrochemistry and protoplanetary disks. For the last two years she has been working on an extensive research project, investigating the vertical structure of turbulence in the protoplanetary disk around the young star DM Tau. Amina modelled the emission from the molecular ion N2H+ coming from the disk. She won the Beth Brown Memorial Award for her poster on this subject at the National Society of Black Physicists’ annual meeting earlier this year. Nitya Kallivayalil, co-Chair of Graduate Admissions said, “I was really impressed with Amina’s poster at the conference, and upon chatting with her further, I found out that her true passion lies in radio astronomy, and that she wants to be a radio astronomer. I think she has made a wise decision, therefore, to come to UVa for graduate school, and we are thrilled that she chose us.” Amina also has extensive teaching and outreach experience and is interested in helping minority students both in the US and overseas.


Whitney Wills Richardson Wins Hoos Building Bridges Award

May 7, 2021

Whitney Wills Richardson received a Hoos Building Bridges Award from President Ryan on April 7.  She was cited as being “a selfless departmental citizen. … She is someone who volunteers to help with all types of department activities, proactively improves processes as needed, and makes space in the department for everyone. Furthermore, she actively builds bridges and keeps those bridges in good repair as a key member of the department's education and public outreach cadre, amplifying astronomy’s magical way of making science accessible to all ages in the community.”  The UVAToday article on Whitney’s award is at

Like Peas in a Pod: UVA Astronomer's Survey of Young Stars Published

April 5, 2021


An international research group led by a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Virginia’s Department of Astronomy identified a rich organic chemistry in young disks surrounding 50 newly formed stars. Read more here. 

UVA Faculty and Student Research Feature

March 31, 2021

APOGEE observations of the warp in the Milky Way done by Steve Majewski, Xinlun Cheng, and Borja Anguiano are feature in the Charlottesville newspaper: The Daily Progress. Read the article here:

UVA Astronomers among first projects on JWST

March 3, 2021


When the James Webb Space Telescope launches in October, it will be the world’s premier space science observatory. Its combination of high-resolution and infrared-detecting instruments is expected to provide astronomers with a wealth of detailed data – not only on individual stars in the local universe, but also an unprecedented level of detail of what’s happening at the cores of other galaxies. Continue reading here:


Photo: UVA astronomers Aaron Evans, left, and Nitya Kallivayalil are working on two of the first research projects selected by NASA for the James Webb Space Telescope. (Contributed photo of Evans; photo of Kallivayalil by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Dr. Kelsey Johnson President-Elect of AAS

February 18, 2021

Professor Kelsey Johnson has been elected to serve as president to the American Astronomical Society. Dr. Johnson is currently a Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Director of the UVA Echols Scholars Program. She is an award-winning teacher and advocate for public astronomy education whose research on galaxy evolution has earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and other prominent honors. Johnson also is the founding director of the award-winning “Dark Skies, Bright Kids” outreach program, which connects UVA astronomers, graduate students and volunteers to elementary schools in rural areas.

Read her Candidate Statement here:

Result of 2021 AAS Election:


Astronomer John Hawley Named AAS Fellow

February 2, 2021

John Hawley, Hamilton and VITA Professor of Astronomy and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, was recently named as a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society.   John was cited “For pioneering work in computational astrophysics and its application to studies of accretion disks and jets.” More information here:

Professor Ilse Cleeves Wins Award for Research

January 22, 2021

Professor Ilse Cleeves has recieved the Research Excellence Award by the University of Virginia Research Achievement Awards committee. Each year up to three researchers are selected across UVA for this honor through a nomination process and a rigorous review by a multi-disciplinary awards committee. This award recognizes faculty members who have generated sufficient volume of scholarship of high quality and are emerging in their fields as leaders and acknowledged as such by their peers. Chair Craig Sarazin says, "Ilse has won almost every award available in the world of Astronomy.  It is not at all a surprise that U.Va. would recognize the quality of her research."

UVA Graduate, Dr. Jake Turner, detects possible exoplanet radio emission

January 4, 2021

By monitoring the cosmos with a radio telescope array, an international team of scientists has detected radio bursts emanating from the constellation Boötes –  that could be the first radio emission collected from a planet beyond our solar system.

The team, led by Cornell postdoctoral researcher Jake D. Turner, Philippe Zarka of the Observatoire de Paris - Paris Sciences et Lettres University and Jean-Mathias Griessmeier of the Université d’Orléans will publish their findings in the forthcoming research section of Astronomy & Astrophysics, on Dec. 16.

Full article:

Nitya Kallivayalil’s research featured in Quanta magazine

December 16, 2020

Nitya Kallivayalil’s research was featured in a Quanta magazine article entitled “The New History of the Milky Way”, which explores the outsize influence of the Large Magellanic Cloud on our own galaxy.


Image by Gilbert Vancell

Mark Whittle awarded a Jefferson Scholars Foundation 2020 Award for Excellence in Teaching

October 15, 2020

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, in 2012 the Jefferson Scholars Foundation began recognizing University faculty who have demonstrated both excellence in teaching and exceeding care for their students. This award honors those teachers in our community who have gone the extra mile in fulfilling their vocation without regard for their own advancement. This year, Mark Whittle was nominated and has been designated as a 2020 recipient. Professor Whittle has been in the Astronomy department since 1986 and his research interests include active galaxies and cosmology.

Astronomer Ilse Cleeves Recognized Among Women Leaders in ‘STEM2D’

June 19, 2020

Astronomy's Ilse Cleeves has won the prestigious Johnson & Johnson Women in STEM2D (WiSTEM2D) Scholars Award. The Johnson & Johnson program seeks to “fuel development of future female STEM2D leaders and feed the STEM2D talent pipeline by awarding and sponsoring women at critical points in their careers.” More than 540 nominees from around the world were considered for this year’s awards. The six winners are all assistant professors or senior lecturers at their respective universities and represent women leaders in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, math, manufacturing and design. Cleeves was recognized as the only winner in the award’s “Science” division.

For more information, see the announcement from the UVA College of Arts and Sciences

2020 Department of Astronomy Awards

May 29, 2020

During the virtual Astronomy Department Diploma ceremony on 17 May, the winners of the Lawrence W. Fredrick award of the Astronomy department and the winners of three undergraduate Astronomy awards were announced.  

Lawrence W. Fredrick Award
This award recognizes one or two outstanding astronomy graduate teaching assistants (TA) in the preceding year. The award is named for the Chair of the Astronomy Department in the 1960's and 1970's. This year's award goes jointly to Luca Beale and Daniel Lin. Luca was cited for his work as head TA, his role in the graduate mentoring of undergraduate majors and his work in organising the Bob Rood Graduate symposium. Daniel was cited by for his outstanding TA work, going above and beyond the call of duty in his efforts to help and educate undergraduate students. The award includes a monetary prize and a certificate.


The McCullough Scholarship Prize
This scholarship recognizes the outstanding academic and research work of a second-year undergraduate student in Astronomy or Astronomy-Physics. It is named for Dr. Timothy P. McCullough who who was a radio astronomer at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. Dr. McCullough made some of the first radio measurements of many objects in the Solar System. The scholarship was established by his son, Gene McCullough, who is a U.Va. alumnus, graduating with a degree in Physics and
being in the first contingent of Echols Scholars at U.Va. As the scholarship was established only last summer(in 2019) after graduation, the winner of last year has not been yet announced publicly. So both last year and this year's winner are announced here. 2019's winner was Camryn Phillips. She did research with Prof Phil Arras on using the satellite Kepler data to  look for tidal effects caused by planets on their stars. 2020's winner is James Staeben. He worked with Prof Craig Sarazin on analyzing Chandra X-ray observations of clusters of galaxies, shedding light on how they form by merging processes. The award includes a $1000 prize and a certificate.


The Vyssotsky Prize
The Vyssotsky Prize recognizes an outstanding third year undergraduate student in Astronomy or Astronomy-Physics. Professor Alexander Vyssotsky worked at McCormick Observatory for 35 years beginning in 1923. This year, the Vyssotsky Prize goes to Josef Zimmerman. Josef did research with Physics Prof Kent Yagi on the study of the properties of nuclear matter in neutron stars using gravitational wave and X-ray observations. The Vyssotsky Prize consists of a certificate and a $1,000 fund for professional travel during the student's 4th year, such as an observing trip, or a presentation at a conference.


D. Nelson Limber Award
The D. Nelson Limber Award recognizes outstanding accomplishments in course work and astrophysical research by a graduating undergraduate major or majors. The award is named for Nelson Limber, who was a professor in the Astronomy Department at the University of Virginia and a leading figure in the theoretical study of the interstellar medium and galaxy clustering. This year, the Limber Award goes jointly to Megan Kenny and Eric Rohr. Both have excelled in their research work. Megan studied the properties of the solar wind and of the corona of the sun using VLA observations with NRAO scientist Tim Bastian. She will do graduate work at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Eric did research work in a variety of fields: with Prof Mark Whittle on Hubble data on a star-forming dwarf galaxy, and with Prof Shane Davis using a magneto-hydrodynamic code studying accretion disks around black holes. Eric spent last summer at the university of Zurich, Switzerland working on simulations of galaxy evolution. He will do graduate work at the University of Heidelberg. The prize consists of a certificate and an award of $1000.  Since this year it is shared, each recipient will receive $500. 

Students receive Double Hoo Award to study Exoplanets

May 20, 2020

Graduate student, Hannah Lewis, and Undergraduate student, Mary Brewer, are researching phenomena in our own Milky Way galaxy through a Double Hoo grant, which pairs an undergraduate student with a graduate student mentor to conduct research on a topic of their choice. Learn more about their research here:

Thankful Cromartie awarded Allan T. Gwathmey Memorial Award

April 29, 2020

Congratulations to Thankful Cromartie who was awarded this year's Allan T. Gwathmey Memorial Award. This award comes from the UVa Graduate School of the College of Arts and Sciences for the best paper on a "fundamental problem in physical sciences" by a current graduate student or recent PhDs. It carries a cash award of $6,500 and is a great recognition of Thankful's work. Read the paper here: