bowler, illustration of planet forming
Brendan Bowler and an Illustration of a young giant planet in the process of forming. (Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, Joseph Olmsted (STScI); McDonald Observatory–University of Texas, Yifan Zhou (UT Austin).

A University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy (IfA) graduate has received the esteemed Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in Physics, an honor that recognizes outstanding early-career scientists who specialize in one of seven scientific and technical fields: chemistry, computer science, Earth system science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience and physics. IfA alumnus Brendan Bowler’s research focuses on extrasolar planets—planets around stars besides our Sun—and spans a variety of topics related to their formation, evolution, structure and atmospheres.

During his time at IfA, Bowler’s research relied on Maunakea telescopes, and included obtaining the very first near-infrared spectrum of an extrasolar planet and conducting the first large imaging survey for exoplanets around low-mass stars using the largest ground-based telescopes. His PhD work earned Bowler a UH Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Research and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Trumpler Prize, awarded annually to one astronomy thesis in all of North America. Bowler graduated from UH in 2013.

“I’m very grateful for the experiences and support I had at the IfA,” said Bowler, who is now an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s rare for graduate students to lead big surveys with the largest ground-based telescopes. I don’t know of another institution where I could have done the same dissertation.”

The Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship is bestowed upon early-career researchers in recognition of distinguished performance and a unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field. The fellowship is among the most prestigious awards available to young faculty, with only a few given each year to astronomers. Bowler will receive $75,000 to be spent over two years on his research.

IfA is a great place for students to learn to become world-class observational astronomers, and I’m delighted but not surprised that Brendan has been awarded this fellowship. He was a joy to work with during his time at UH, given his enthusiasm, dedication and talent,” said IfA Professor Michael Liu, who advised Bowler.

Past IfA recipients

Bowler joins Douglas Clowe (PhD 1998) and Emily Levesque (PhD 2010) as IfA graduates who have won the Sloan Fellowship. IfA faculty, Christoph Baranec, Daniel Huber and Liu were awarded the fellowship while at the UH.