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Didier Queloz

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Didier Queloz
Queloz in 2017
Born (1966-02-23) 23 February 1966 (age 58)
EducationUniversity of Geneva (MS, DEA, PhD)
Known forFirst person to find a planet orbiting a Sun-like star outside of our solar system
AwardsWolf Prize in Physics (2017)
Nobel Prize in Physics (2019)
Scientific career
ThesisRecherches liées à la spectroscopie par corrélation croisée numérique; (INTER-TACOS: guide de l'utilisateur) (1995)
Doctoral advisorMichel Mayor

Didier Patrick Queloz FRS (French pronunciation: [didje kəlo, kelo]; born 23 February 1966) is a Swiss astronomer. He is the Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Cambridge,[1] where he is also a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, as well as a professor at the University of Geneva.[2] Together with Michel Mayor in 1995, he discovered 51 Pegasi b, the first extrasolar planet orbiting a Sun-like star, 51 Pegasi.[3] For this discovery, he shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics with Mayor and Jim Peebles.[4][5] In 2021, he was announced as the founding director of the Center for the Origin and Prevalence of Life at ETH Zurich.[6]

Early life and education


Queloz was born in Switzerland, on 23 February 1966.[7][8]

Queloz studied at the University of Geneva where he subsequently obtained a MSc degree in physics in 1990, a DEA in Astronomy and Astrophysics in 1992, and a PhD degree in 1995 with Swiss astrophysicist Michel Mayor as his doctoral advisor.[9]

In the area of religion The Daily Telegraph reports him as saying, "although not a believer himself, “Science inherited a lot from religions”".[10]

Career and research

Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz (2019) during Nobel week ceremony award

Didier Queloz is at the origin of the “exoplanet revolution” in astrophysics when as part of his PhD at the University of Geneva , with his supervisor, they discovered the first exoplanet around a main sequence star.[11][12] In 1995 with Michel Mayor announced a giant planet orbiting the star 51 Pegasi; the planet was identified as 51 Pegasi b and determined to be of a Hot Jupiter.[11][12] The planet was detected by the measurement of small periodic changes in stellar radial velocity produced by the orbiting planet. Detecting this small variability by the Doppler effect had been possible thanks to the development of a new type of spectrograph, ELODIE,[13] installed at the Haute-Provence Observatory, combined creative approach to measuring precise stellar radial velocity. For this achievement, they were awarded half of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics "for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star"[5] resulting in “contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos.”[14]

This seminal discovery has spawned a revolution in astronomy and kickstarted the research field of exoplanets. Over the next 25 years, Didier Queloz's main scientific contributions have essentially been focused to expand our detection and measurement capabilities of these systems to retrieve information on their physical structure. The goal is to better understand their formation and evolution by comparison with the Solar System. In the course of his career, he developed new astronomical equipment, novel observational approaches, and detection algorithms. He participated and conducted programs leading to the detection of hundred planets, including breakthrough results.

Early in his career, he identified stellar activity as a potential limitation for planet detection. He published a reference paper describing how to disentangle stellar activity from a planetary signal using proxies, including new algorithms that have become standard practice in all planet publications based on precise Doppler spectroscopy data. With this work he set the foundation to optimize measurements of stellar radial velocity that is still in use today.

Queloz received the 2011 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award of Basic Sciences (co-winner with Mayor) for developing new astronomical instruments and experimental techniques that led to the first observation of planets outside the solar system.[15]

Shortly after the start of the ELODIE planet survey at OHP, he led the installation of an improved version (CORALIE), on the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope. Very quickly this new facility started to detect exoplanets on stars visible in the southern hemisphere. In 2000, he took the responsibility, as a project scientist, in the development of HARPS, a new type of spectrograph for the ESO 3.6m telescope. This instrument commissioned in 2003 was about to become a reference in the business of precise Doppler spectroscopy. HARPS performances, allied with the development of a new analysis software inherited from all past experiences gathered with ELODIE and CORALIE, would considerably improve the precision of the Doppler technique. Eventually, it would deliver spectacular detections of smaller exoplanets in the realm of Neptune, super-Earth systems before Kepler would massively detect them and establish their statistic occurrence.

After the announcement of the detection of the first transiting planet (in 1999), Didier Queloz's research interest got broader with the objective to combine capabilities offered by transiting planets and follow-up Doppler spectroscopy measurements. In 2000 he achieved the first spectroscopic transit detection of an exoplanet using the so-called Rossiter-McLaughlin effect. This type of measurement essentially tells us about the projected angle between the stellar angular momentum vector and the planet orbital angular momentum vector. The pinnacle of this program would be reached 10 years later, after he led a significant upgrade of CORALIE, and established a collaboration with the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) consortium in the UK. With his Ph.D. student they demonstrated a significant number of the planets were surprisingly misaligned or in a retrograde orbit, providing a new insight about their formation process. In 2017 he received the Wolf Prize in Physics 2017 for that work and all the planet discoveries he had made.

The special geometry of transiting planets combined with precise Doppler spectroscopic observations allow us to measure the mass and radius of planets and to compute their bulk densities to get insights about their physical structure. In 2003 Didier Queloz, recently appointed at a faculty position, with his research team pioneered and established the combination of these techniques by first measuring bulk density of OGLE transiting planets. They also looked for transit opportunities on known radial velocity planets and they found the first transiting Neptune-size planet Gliese 436 b. In the course of this program and a collaboration with his Colleague S. Zucker from Tel-Aviv University, they developed the mathematical foundation to compute residual noise they encountered during the analysis of transit they were trying to model. They established statistical metric to address pink noise in the data. Today this concept is widely used in the field to estimate systematics in light-curves and transit modelling.

In 2007 Didier Queloz became associate professor. Over the next 5 years following his nomination his research program based on the combination of spectroscopy and transit detection intensified. He took the lead in the spectroscopic follow-up effort of the WASP consortium and the CoRoT space mission.[16] The combination of WASP and Corot data with follow-up observations using EulerCam (CCD imager ), CORALIE spectrograph, HARPS spectrograph, and other main ESO facilities was amazingly successful. It led to more than 100 publications, some of them breakthroughs providing new insights on the formation and nature of hot Jupiter-type planets. Further, in the same period, the detection of COROT-7b combined with an intensive follow-up campaign established the first planet detection with a bulk density similar to a rocky planet.

All follow-up expertise he developed naturally extended to the Kepler space telescope era with HARPS-N consortium confirming the Earth-like bulk density of Kepler-10. On the ground-based transit programs, Didier Queloz was deeply involved in the design and installation of a new generation of survey telescope: the NGTS Observatory. His role was decisive during system tests in Europe and to establish the facility at the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

At the time Didier Queloz moved to the University of Cambridge, he essentially focused his activity to set up a comprehensive research activity directed to the detection of Earth-like planets and life in the Universe, and to further develop the exoplanet community in UK. When he left Switzerland, he was co-directing a major national initiative[17] which eventually got funded. At Cambridge with the help of his colleagues of the IoA and DAMTP he established the Cambridge Exoplanet Research Centre[18] to stimulate joint coordinated efforts and collaborations between departments. In UK he organized the first “Exoplanet community meeting” and installed the idea of a regular yearly “community” workshop. In the European context, he is leading at Geneva (through his joint Professor appointment) the development of the ground segment CHEOPS[19] space mission and he chairs the science team.[20]

His most recent research highlights are related to the search for transiting Earth-like planets on low mass stars and Universal life. This program, carried out in collaboration with M. Gillon from the University of Liège, is at the origins of the detection of TRAPPIST-1, a planetary system potentially interesting to further search for atmosphere and life signature. Another successful avenue of research is the characterization of the rocky surface or atmosphere of hot small planets with the work on 55 Cancri e. The recent extension of this program towards “Life in the Universe” is carried out in the context of an international research initiative supported by the Simons Foundation. The highlight result of this collaboration is the definition – combining chemistry and astrophysical constraints – of minimum conditions for the origins of RNA precursors on exoplanets (“abiogenesis zone”).

Discoveries of exoplanets attract a lot of attention from the public and media. In parallel to his research and teaching activities, Didier Queloz has participated in numerous documentaries, movies, articles, and TV and radio interviews to share the excitement, and to explain results and promote interest in science in general.

He was also a visiting scientist at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in 2019.[21]

In October 2019, related to his work in astronomy and exoplanet discoveries, Queloz predicted humans will discover extraterrestrial life in the next 30 years, stating, "I can't believe we are the only living entity in the universe. There are just way [too] many planets, way too many stars, and the chemistry is universal. The chemistry that led to life has to happen elsewhere. So I am a strong believer that there must be life elsewhere."[22]

In December 2019, Queloz took issue with those who are not supportive of helping to limit climate change, stating, “I think this is just irresponsible, because the stars are so far away I think we should not have any serious hope to escape the Earth [...] Also keep in mind that we are a species that has evolved and developed for this planet. We’re not built to survive on any other planet than this one [...] We’d better spend our time and energy trying to fix it.”[23]

Highlights and publications


Didier Queloz has over 400 scientific publications, attracting over 50,000 citations. His H-index is 115.[24]



Named after him


  1. ^ Cavendish Astrophysics: Professor Didier Queloz www.astro.phy.cam.ac.uk, accessed 3 February 2020
  2. ^ Cambridge Press Release: Professor Didier Queloz wins 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for first discovery of an exoplanet www.cam.ac.uk, accessed 3 February 2020
  3. ^ Mayor, Michel; Queloz, Didier (November 1995). "A Jupiter-mass companion to a solar-type star". Nature. 378 (6555): 355–59. Bibcode:1995Natur.378..355M. doi:10.1038/378355a0. S2CID 4339201.
  4. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2019". Nobel Media AB. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  5. ^ a b Chang, Kenneth; Specia, Megan (8 October 2019). "Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded for Studies of Earth's Place in the Universe". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  6. ^ swissinfo.ch/ilj, Keystone-SDA/ETH Zurich/SWI. "Nobel winner Queloz to head new research centre in Zurich". SWI swissinfo.ch. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  7. ^ Vonarburg, Barbara (25 April 2015). "Didier Queloz". PlanetS. National Centre of Competence in Research. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  8. ^ Johnston, Hamish (8 October 2019). "James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz share Nobel Prize for Physics". Physics World. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  9. ^ Curriculum Vitae Didier Queloz - website of the University of Geneva
  10. ^ Bodkin, Henry (8 October 2019). "Cambridge University planet hunter says mankind could find alien life in 30 years as he wins Nobel prize". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  11. ^ a b Mayor, Michael; Queloz, Didier (1995). "A Jupiter-mass companion to a solar-type star". Nature. 378 (6555): 355–359. Bibcode:1995Natur.378..355M. doi:10.1038/378355a0. S2CID 4339201.
  12. ^ a b Overbye, Dennis (12 May 2013). "Finder of New Worlds". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  13. ^ A. Baranne; D. Queloz; M. Mayor; G. Adrianzyk; G. Knispel; D. Kohler; D. Lacroix; J.-P. Meunier; G. Rimbaud; A. Vin (1996). "ELODIE: A spectrograph for accurate radial velocity measurements" (PDF). Astronomy and Astrophysics Supplement Series. 119 (2): 373–390. Bibcode:1996A&AS..119..373B. doi:10.1051/aas:1996251. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  14. ^ Wenz, John (10 October 2019). "Lessons from scorching hot weirdo-planets". Knowable Magazine. Annual Reviews. doi:10.1146/knowable-101019-2. Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  15. ^ "The BBVA Foundation presents its Frontiers of Knowledge Awards at a ceremony enthroning science and culture as motors of development". BBVA Foundation. 12 June 2012. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  16. ^ COROT CNES webpage
  17. ^ PlanetS webpage
  18. ^ Cambridge Exoplanet Center
  19. ^ CHEOPS webpage
  20. ^ "Who is Who in CHEOPS - CHEOPS - Cosmos". www.cosmos.esa.int. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  21. ^ "Congratulations To MKI Visiting Scientist Didier Queloz For Being Awarded The 2019 Nobel Prize In Physics!". MIT. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  22. ^ Bodkin, Henry (8 October 2019). "Cambridge University planet hunter says mankind could find alien life in 30 years as he wins Nobel prize". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  23. ^ Heintz, Jim; Keyton, David (7 December 2019). "Nobel laureate: Face up to climate change, no escaping Earth". AP News. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  24. ^ "Didier Queloz". Google Scholar.
  25. ^ "Didier Queloz". Royal Society. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  • "SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS)", query for Didier Queloz. Includes 200 abstracts with Queloz listed as an author or co-author a/o 23 February 2017.
  • Didier Queloz on Nobelprize.org Edit this at Wikidata including the Nobel Lecture on Sunday 8 December 2019 Exoplanets: 51 Pegasis b and all the others …
Academic offices
Title last held by
James Stirling
Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy
2021 – present