The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has awarded its prestigious George Van Biesbroeck Prize to Dr. Rick Perley of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, New Mexico. The society recognized Perley for his “tireless and unrelenting career-long service to the global astronomical community.”

The Van Biesbroeck Prize “honors a living individual for long-term extraordinary or unselfish service to astronomy, often beyond the requirements of his or her paid position.” The AAS, with about 7,000 members, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America.

The award cites Perley’s contributions “to the design, commissioning, and optimization of the world’s premier radio telescope, the Very Large Array, and its recent reinvention as the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA).” The citation notes that Perley’s efforts have been central to every major improvement in the VLA over that facility’s more than 35-year history.

Arriving at NRAO as the first postdoctoral research fellow at the VLA in 1977, Perley led efforts that produced some of the first iconic images that demonstrated the unparalleled capabilities of that telescope. In 1984, he founded a semiannual synthesis imaging school to teach astronomers from around the world how to effectively use the VLA. The AAS citation calls that school the “gold standard” of such training, and it has been emulated around the world.

Perley was NRAO’s Project Scientist for the decade-long VLA Expansion Project, completed in 2012, that transformed the VLA into a vastly more powerful scientific tool by bringing its electronic systems back to the state of the art. Noting those efforts, along with his enthusiastic advocacy for the VLA and radio astronomy, the AAS called him “the driving force behind one of the most powerful and productive telescopes in the world, at any wavelength, for close to four decades.”

“I’m very honored to receive this award, and greatly appreciate the American Astronomical Society’s recognition. It’s important to remember that the work they cite covers many years, and that many others have contributed greatly over those years to make the VLA the amazing scientific tool that it is,” Perley said.

“This award is very richly deserved, and we are proud that the wider astronomical community has recognized Rick’s efforts,” said NRAO Director Tony Beasley. “We all know just how hard he has worked to make the VLA such a valuable resource for the world’s astronomers, and it’s gratifying to see his contributions honored by our professional society,” Beasley added.

Perley will be presented with his prize at the AAS meeting in January 2017.

Perley received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from the University of British Columbia and his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Maryland, with the late Bill Erickson as his graduate advisor. He has worked at NRAO since 1977. He is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the International Radio Science Union, and the International Astronomical Union. In addition to his astronomical contributions, he has served as a long-time referee for soccer at many levels as well as volunteering as a judge for science fairs and Science Olympiad.

Perley is the third NRAO astronomer from Socorro to receive the Van Biesbroeck Award. Dr. Eric Greisen received the award in 2005, and Dr. Barry Clark was the recipient in 1991.

“Our observatory exists to serve the needs of the research community, and so we take distinct pride in noting that three of our scientists have received an honor that specifically recognizes extraordinary service to that community,” Beasley said.

Dave Finley
NRAO Public Information Officer
+1 (575) 835-7302

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.