David Charbonneau is a Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University. His research focuses on the development of novel techniques for the detection and characterization of planets orbiting nearby, Sun-like stars. These distant worlds are called exoplanets.
As a graduate student in 1999, he used a 4-inch telescope to make the first detection of an exoplanet eclipsing (or transiting) its parent star, which yielded the first ever constraint on the composition of a planet outside the Solar system. Charbonneau was a founding member of the Trans-Atlantic Exoplanet Survey, which used a worldwide network of humble automated telescopes to survey hundreds of thousands of stars to detect 5 more exoplanets by this technique. Charbonneau also pioneered the use of space-based observatories to undertake the first studies of the atmospheres of these distant worlds: In 2001 he used the Hubble Space Telescope to study directly the chemical make-up of the atmosphere enshrouding one of these exoplanets, and in 2005, he led the team that used the Spitzer Space Telescope to make the first direct detection of the light emitted by an exoplanet. He is currently leading the NSF-funded MEarth Project and is a member of the NASA Kepler Mission Team. Each of these projects aims to detect Earth-like planets that might be suitable abodes for life beyond the Solar system.
Charbonneau earned his PhD in astronomy from Harvard University, and received his undergraduate degree in math and physics from the University of Toronto. In 2004, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific awarded him the Robert J. Trumpler Award for his graduate thesis entitled Shadows and Reflections of Extrasolar Planets.
Awards and honors
- Robert J. Trumpler Award (2004)
- Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow (2006–2008)
- David and Lucile Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering (2006–2011)
- NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (2006)
- Discover Magazine Scientist of the Year (2007)
- National Science Foundation's Alan T. Waterman Award (2009)
- Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in the Physical Sciences (2012)
- Blavatnik Award (2016)