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Professor Didier Queloz awarded Nobel Prize in Physics

Professor Didier Queloz, Fellow of Trinity College, has been jointly awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics along with Professor James Peebles and Professor Michel Mayor for their pioneering advances in physical cosmology, and the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.

Didier Queloz
Niklas Elmedhed. © Nobel Media.

Queloz is Professor of Physics at the University’s Cavendish Laboratory. He leads the Cambridge Exoplanet Research Centre. In 1995, along with Michel Mayor, Queloz made the first discovery of a planet outside our solar system, an exoplanet, orbiting the star 51 Pegasi. Queloz becomes 34th Nobel Laureate of Trinity College.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the 2019 Prize this morning. The Nobel Assembly said:

‘The discovery by 2019 Nobel Prize laureates Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz started a revolution in astronomy and over 4,000 exoplanets have since been found in the Milky Way. Strange new worlds are still being discovered, with an incredible wealth of sizes, forms and orbits.’

‘This year’s Laureates have transformed our ideas about the cosmos. While James Peebles’ theoretical discoveries contributed to our understanding of how the universe evolved after the Big Bang, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz explored our cosmic neighbourhoods on the hunt for unknown planets. Their discoveries have forever changed our conceptions of the world.’

Professor Queloz said:

It’s an incredible honour and I’m still trying to digest it.

When we discovered the first exoplanet, it was pretty obvious that this was something important, even though not everyone believed us at the time. Back then, exoplanet research was a very small field. I think there were about fifty of us and we were seen as weirdos. Now there are probably over a thousand people working in the field. It’s a hot topic at the moment, so I’m really happy that the field of exoplanets has been recognised with a Nobel Prize.

He added: ‘When you are working so passionately at your research, it can be very disruptive to your family. My family has always been there for me and I’m grateful of their support. This Nobel Prize is also an acknowledgement of their incredible patience!’

Dame Sally Davies and Professor Didier Queloz

Dame Sally Davies, installed as Master of Trinity today said: ‘What an amazing day! I am absolutely delighted that Didier Queloz has shared the Nobel Prize in Physics.’

Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and former Master of Trinity, said: ‘Didier Queloz shares the Nobel Prize for discovering planets orbiting other stars. We now know that most stars are, like our Sun, orbited by retinues of planets; there are likely to be a billion planets in our galaxy resembling the Earth (similar in size and at a distance from their parent star where liquid water can exist). This realisation opens up the fascinating challenge of detecting evidence for life on the nearest of these exoplanets.’

Queloz, then working in Geneva, with his PhD advisor Michael Mayor, detected the first exo-planet by high-precision observations. This discovery showed that the night sky is far more interesting than had been envisioned, and opened up a vibrant new field of science. He has been one of the leaders in the discovery of hundreds of exo-planets, and now heads a vibrant research group in Cambridge with is forging ahead with new observations and new instruments.

For more information visit the Nobel Prize website.

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