Amaury Triaud wins MERAC Prize for astrophysics thesis

MIT News Office, MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research Thursday, April 10, 2014

The 2014 MERAC Prize for the Best Doctoral Thesis in Observational Astrophysics has been awarded to Amaury Triaud for his thesis on the discovery and characterization of many new exoplanetary systems.

Triaud is currently on a postdoc fellowship at MIT supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. His path is an example of contemporary youth in Europe: Born and schooled in France, Triaud decided to attend the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, graduating in 2007 with a masters in physics. His summers were spent in France (2003 and 2004), Germany (2005), and Switzerland (2006) doing research internships that nurtured his scientific career and produced his first papers. In 2007, after graduating from St. Andrews, he moved to Geneva for a four-year PhD program that he completed in August 2011. He came to MIT in January 2013 to work under Joshua Winn, an associate professor of physics.

Triaud conducted the radial velocity confirmation of transiting exoplanet candidates produced by the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP). This led to the confirmation of 48 new nearby exoplanetary systems, which are prime targets for characterisation. Triaud measured the angle between the star's rotation axis and the planet's orbit. Multiple observations using the European Southern Observatory's High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher spectrograph unveiled the earliest evidence for planets on retrograde orbits and found that a large fraction of hot Jupiters do not occupy orbits coplanar with their star. Those results shacked widely held believes about planet formation and migration scenarios and triggered a flurry of theoretical papers and additional observations.

Triaud's winning PhD thesis was carried out at the Observatory of the University of Geneva (Switzerland) between August 2007 and August 2011, under the supervision of Didier Queloz, a professor at the university.

The number, variety, and citation rate of Triaud's publications are a testimony of his achievements during and since his thesis. He has also helped numerous outreach activities bring science to the general public.

The MERAC Prizes awarded by the European Astronomical Society recognize and support young European astronomers.