The Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is pleased to announce the recipient of its 2021 Dissertation Prize, given to an individual who has recently completed an outstanding theoretical or experimental doctoral dissertation in laboratory astrophysics. This year’s prize goes to Dr. Jennifer Bergner for her thesis Tracing Organic Complexity During Star and Planet Formation. Dr. Bergner earned her PhD at Harvard University, working with Professor Karin Öberg. She is now a NASA Hubble-Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Chicago’s Department of the Geophysical Sciences.

Dr. Bergner is being cited “for the discovery of new, cold pathways to complex molecule formation and for creative, interdisciplinary explorations of the origins of organic molecules during planet formation.” Her research is aimed at understanding chemical evolution in the progenitors of planetary systems and its implications for how the ingredients for life are delivered to nascent planets. For her thesis she performed a series of laboratory astrochemical experiments involving ices, all aimed at finding and characterizing cold formation pathways of complex organic molecules. She and others use these results together with observations from telescopes such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile and the Institut de Radio Astronomie Millimétrique (IRAM) 30-meter dish in Spain to study organic chemistry in protostars and protoplanetary disks and to characterize how physics and chemistry interact on solar system scales.

The LAD Dissertation Prize includes a cash award, a framed certificate, and an invited lecture by the recipient at a meeting of the Laboratory Astrophysics Division.