Herschel Medal for Michael Kramer

The Royal Astronomical Society honours Director at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy

January 11, 2013

The Royal Astronomical Society in London honours Michael Kramer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, with the Herschel Medal for his work in the field of gravitational physics. Kramer’s successes include the best tests for Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity for strong gravitational fields.

After receiving his doctorate from the University of Bonn in 1995 for his work on pulsars and neutron stars, Michael Kramer initially worked as a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. This was followed by an Otto Hahn fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley before he became a lecturer at the University of Manchester in 1999. In 2006 the British university appointed him professor of astrophysics. Two years later he received an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council worth 2.5 million euros for a project to research gravity with the aid of pulsars and black holes.

Since 2009 Kramer has been Director at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, where he heads the “Fundamental Physics in Radio Astronomy” research group. He is also the German representative of the international SKA organisation; the Square Kilometre Array is a global project for a future radio telescope with revolutionary technology.

In his scientific work, the Max Planck Director focuses on the observation of pulsars - burnt-out, fast rotating stars. Using the J0737-3039 binary pulsar system, he tested predictions of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with unprecedented accuracy.

Michael Kramer was the first to confirm the existence of the relativistic gyroscopic motion of a pulsar in a binary star system. According to the General Theory of Relativity, the motion of a pulsar in the gravitational field of a companion star leads to a continuous change in the direction of its rotation axis (geodetic precession). In 1998 Kramer succeeded in measuring this predicted change in direction at the 100-metre radio telescope in Effelsberg. In addition, he observed the PSR B1913+16 pulsar, whose discovery earned Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor the Nobel Prize for physics in 1993.

In 2009 Michael Kramer was bestowed with the Marcel Grossmann Award for his fundamental contributions to pulsar astrophysics. The Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society has been awarded every three years since 1974, and since 2004 every two years, for outstanding achievements in observational astronomy. The recipients of the award include Jocelyn Bell, who was at the forefront of the discovery of the first pulsars, and Arno Penzias and Robert W. Wilson, who received the Nobel Prize in 1978 for the discovery of cosmic background radiation.


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