Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize for Astrophysicist at Universität Heidelberg

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Most important award for early-career researchers in Germany goes to Dr Dominika Wylezalek

Astrophysicist Dr Dominika Wylezalek, a scientist at the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University (ZAH), has been selected for the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize by the German Research Foundation (DFG). It pays tribute to her research projects on the development of galaxies and the role played by supermassive black holes at their centres. The prize, worth 200,000 euros each, is the most important award in Germany for researchers in the early phases of their career. The prize money can be spent over a period of up to three years for further research work. Dr Wylezalek, with her Emmy Noether junior research group, is based at the Institute for Astronomical Computing, which belongs to the ZAH.

In her research, Dr Wylezalek deals with the physical processes that influence the formation and evolution of galaxies. Using spectroscopic measurements, she studies how active galactic nuclei - that is, galactic cores (quasars) fed by supermassive black holes - impact on the development of their host galaxies and their galactic environment. The Heidelberg astrophysicist has already been able to show that the energy pumped into the environment from these black holes has a relevant influence on the formation of stars and hence on the present form of galaxies. In a research project run by NASA and ESA the scientist collected data from the James Webb Space Telescope and discovered a galaxy cluster with a large number of massive galaxies emerging around an extremely red quasar. It stems from the cosmological epoch of very active star formation about ten billion years ago. Dr Wylezalek’s observations help us to understand how galaxies in the early universe melted into the cosmic web we see today.

Dominika Wylezalek studied physics at the universities of Heidelberg and Cambridge (UK). In 2014 she earned her doctorate at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. She went on to do postdoctoral research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (USA) and at the European Southern Observatory in Garching near Munich as a research fellow. Since 2020, Dr Wylezalek has led the Emmy Noether junior research group "Galaxy Evolution and AGN" (GALENA) at Heidelberg University. For her contributions to observational astrophysics, the scientist has already been honoured with the MERAC Prize of the European Astronomical Society and the Ludwig Biermann Award of the German Astronomical Society.

The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize has been awarded annually since 1977 to outstanding early-career researchers in an early phase of their academic career. The award is intended to support the prize-winners in pursuing their scientific career. The prize pays tribute to an autonomous profile and research results that enrich the specialist community, so that the researchers are also expected to achieve a top performance in future, too. The total of ten awards in 2024 go to four women and six men. The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Berlin on 4 June.