‘Ground-breaking' astronomer awarded 2024 Caroline Herschel Medal

Dr Linda Tacconi, of the Max Planck Institute.
Dr Linda Tacconi, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching (MPE), Germany, has been awarded the 2024 Caroline Herschel Medal.
ESO/M. Zamani/RAS

A "ground-breaking" astronomer who specialises in how galaxies form and evolve has been awarded this year’s Caroline Herschel Medal - an honour which celebrates outstanding women astrophysicists in the UK and Germany.

Dr Linda Tacconi, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching (MPE), Germany, was recognised for her “unique contributions to international leadership in astronomy and service to the European astronomical community”.

The Caroline Herschel Medal honours the longstanding scientific cooperation between Germany and the UK, having been launched in 2021 to celebrate outstanding research by women astrophysicists in the two countries.

It commemorates the legacy of Caroline Herschel, who was a distinguished astronomer working in the late 18th and the first half of the 19th century.

Born in Hanover in Germany, she moved to the UK with her brother William, who was the first president of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in 1820.

Not only was Caroline the first woman in Britain to receive a royal pension for astronomy, in 1828 she became the first woman to win the RAS Gold Medal, awarded in recognition of her discovery of eight comets and her work refining and updating star catalogues.

The Caroline Herschel Medal - with an accompanying prize of £10,000 supported by the UK Government - is jointly awarded by the RAS and German Astronomical Society (Astronomische Gesellschaft, AG).

It is given out in alternate years to researchers based in the UK and Germany. Professor Eva Grebel, an astrophysicist at Heidelberg University, won the inaugural prize in 2022, before Professor Gillian Wright CBE was recognised last year.

Professor Wright, director at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, was awarded the medal in recognition of her leadership of the development of the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

This year’s winner Dr Tacconi, a former president of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Council who is based in Germany, was chosen because of her “world-leading observational studies of the cosmic evolution of dense, star-forming molecular gas in galaxies”.

Professor Mike Edmunds, president of the RAS, said: “Dr Tacconi is an outstanding winner of the Caroline Herschel Medal.

“The field of candidates this year was very, very strong - a great tribute to the superb research work and community leadership that this award acknowledges.”

AG president Professor Stefanie Walch-Gassner added: “Linda Tacconi has made ground-breaking contributions to our understanding of how galaxies form and evolve over cosmic time, exploring these objects with detailed observations paired with impressive dedication.

“She is an outstanding and inspiring leader and mentor. We are proud to see her as a recipient of the Caroline Herschel Medal 2024.”

Dr Tacconi’s research has focused on millimeter and submillimeter interferometry - along with high-resolution infrared imaging spectroscopy - to unravel the evolution of galaxies and their central black holes.

After obtaining her PhD from the University of Massachusetts in the US, she established her career in Europe, first in the Netherlands, then in Germany, where she has played a pivotal role in the IR/Submm group of MPE, and deputy to the director Reinhard Genzel. 

Dr Tacconi has made significant contributions to our understanding of galaxy formation and cosmic galaxy evolution, including highlighting the critical importance of the molecular interstellar medium and its intricate relationships with overall galaxy properties.

By combining ground-based and space-based telescope observations spanning from millimeter to infrared wavelengths, her research has revealed that star-forming galaxies in earlier cosmic epochs contained much more molecular gas and exhibited accelerated rates of star formation than their contemporary counterparts.

She has also established that the evolution of cold molecular gas and galaxy-wide star formation is primarily governed by the rate of gas accretion.

Beyond her role at the MPE, Dr Tacconi has contributed significantly to various international committees, including taking on leadership roles in the German, European and International astronomical community.

She has chaired both the Programme Committee and the Science Advisory Committee of IRAM, a prominent international research institute dedicated to millimeter astronomy.

As president of the ESO Council from 2021 to 2023, chair of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array board in 2021 and 2022, chair of the European Space Agency Voyage 2050 senior committee from 2019 to 2021, and Germany's representative on the ESO Council from 2016 to 2020, Dr Tacconi helped guide European astronomy through the difficult circumstances of the pandemic, as well as a series of political and financial challenges.

Her strategic vision remains instrumental in advancing projects such as the Extremely Large Telescope and future space missions.

Dr Tacconi will be awarded the 2024 Caroline Herschel Medal at a ceremony in Berlin on Thursday 21 March.


Media contacts

Sam Tonkin

Royal Astronomical Society

Mob: +44 (0)7802 877700



Dr Janine Fohlmeister

Astronomische Gesellschaft

Tel: +49 331 7499 802



Dr Linda Tacconi

Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics 

Tel: +49 89 30000 3873



Images and captions

1. Dr Linda Tacconi Credit: ESO/M. Zamani

Caption: Dr Linda Tacconi, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching (MPE), Germany, has been awarded the 2024 Caroline Herschel Medal.

2. The Caroline Herschel Medal (1) Credit: RAS

Caption: The Caroline Herschel Medal, an honour which celebrates outstanding women astrophysicists in the UK and Germany.

3. The Caroline Herschel Medal (2) Credit: RAS

Caption: The Caroline Herschel Medal is jointly awarded by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and German Astronomical Society (Astronomische Gesellschaft, AG).


Notes for editors

About the Royal Astronomical Society

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognises outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

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About the German Astronomical Society

The German Astronomical Society (Astronomische Gesellschaft, or AG for short), founded in 1863, is the German national professional association for astronomy and astrophysics. The AG promotes activities in science and research, strengthens exchange between its members and supports the dissemination of science to the public and in education. On the international level, the AG represents the German astronomical scientific community in the European Astronomical Society (EAS) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The Council of German Observatories is a central body of the AG, acting as the science policy committee, and representing the common interests of all German astronomical institutions vis-à-vis funding agencies, governments, international organisations and other relevant boards and committees.

Keep up with the AG on X and Facebook.

Submitted by Sam Tonkin on Wed, 14/02/2024 - 14:11