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Sara Issaoun awarded with Christiaan Huygens science prize

Date of news: 13 October 2022

Astrophysicist Sara Issaoun, who received her PhD from Radboud University last year, has been awarded the Christiaan Huygens science prize for space sciences. She received the award from the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Robbert Dijkgraaf. She was given a bronze statue and a sum of €10,000.

On 3 September 2021, Sara Issaoun obtained her PhD degree from the Radboud University with her thesis on “Lifting the veil on black holes: high-resolution imaging of black hole inner accretion flows”. Heino Falcke supervised her thesis. Issaoun is a member of the global collaboration Event Horizon Telescope, which presented the first image of a shadow of a black hole in 2019.


Role model

Chair of the jury Ralph Wijers (University of Amsterdam) did not only praise Issaoun for her scientific contribution to the EHT team and the first image of a black hole, but also for her position as a science communications specialist: “The first image of the shadow of a black hole might be the most iconic and most recognised astronomical image in many years, seen by billions of people. Sara still plays a very visible role in sharing the meaning and implications of this image to scientists and society as a whole. This makes her a role model to young aspiring scientists.”


Issaoun obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Physics from the University of McGill in 2015. In 2017, she obtained a Master’s of Science in Astrophysics from Radboud University. With the team of Event Horizon Telescope she was awarded the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Physics and the 2020 Albert Einstein medal, among others. For her personal research, she was awarded the Christine Mohrmann grant 2019 and the L’Oreal-UNESCO Rising Talent Award 2021. Sara is currently working as NASA Einstein Fellow at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Honourable mention

Two other nominees of the award received a honourable mention:

  • Sebastiaan Y. Haffert for his thesis “High-resolution integral-field spectroscopy of exoplanets”, presented on 26 September 2019 at the University of Leiden. According to the jury Sebastiaan Haffert has written an excellent thesis, which encompasses an impressive diversity of aspects of instrumentation and exoplanet research.
  • Edgar S. Steenstra for his thesis “Constraints on planetary formation, accretion and differentiation from experimental petrology”, presented on 4 March 2019 at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. The jury praises Steenstra’s thesis on the impressive amount of work that was conducted to improve our understanding of the formation of planets, in which the measuring methods that he developed can also be used beyond the current field.

The jury

Every year, the jury is put together by the KNAW. This year’s chair was Ralph Wijer, full professor of High-energy Astrophysics at the University of Amsterdam. The other members were Mariska Kriek, full professor of Extragalactic Astrophysics at the University of Leiden, and also former Christiaan Huygens Science Award winner (2008) and Marijke Haverkorn, full professor of Astrophysics at Radboud University.

Original press release on astronomie.nl