Leeds astrochemist gets Herschel Society’s biggest prize for 2023

An early-career researcher from the School of Physics and Astronomy has won a prestigious national prize, given in partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

Dr Marie Van de Sande, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow at the University of Leeds, is the winner of the 2023 Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship, awarded by the Herschel Society in association with the RAS. 

The Herschel Society is a registered UK charity and aims to spread knowledge of the life and work of William Herschel, who famously discovered Uranus in 1781. Every year, it celebrates the memory of Caroline – William's sister – by supporting promising women astronomers who are in the early stages of their careers. 

Charles Draper, the Chairman of the Herschel Society, praised Dr Van de Sande for her “real flair” for understanding complex data from a variety of sources, her ability to present results with clarity, and her “excellent record of outreach and service to the community” through public presentations in the UK and Belgium. 

He continued: “She is already a leader in her area of research. Her commitment to and enthusiasm for the field of astrochemistry shone through her application on an unusual, interdisciplinary topic, that of astrochemistry and stellar end stages. Dr Van de Sande has an exceptionally strong CV.” 

Dr Van de Sande will deliver her Prize Lecture, “Dying Stars Seeding the Universe”, at the University of Bath in November, and again as an RAS Public Lecture in London.  

She said: “I’m very honoured to receive this reward and look forward to talking all about astrochemistry in Bath later this year!  

“In my lecture, I will focus on the chemistry that occurs throughout the stellar outflows of dying solar-like stars, and how the dust particles produced in those unique environments go on to form the building blocks of new generation of stars and planets. I will also look closer to home and discuss how our solar system could influence the final breaths of the Sun.” 

In September, Dr Van de Sande will begin the next stage of her promising career when she becomes an Oort Fellow at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands.

Caroline Herschel started out as her older brother’s assistant but went on to become an important astronomer in her own right and received the RAS Gold Medal in 1828.

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