Physics’ Kouveliotou Earns Distinguished Scientist Honors

A leader in high-energy astrophysics, Kouveliotou received the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Southeastern Universities Research Association.

June 21, 2024

Professor of Physics Chryssa Kouveliotou with short brown hair looking at camera.

Professor of Physics Chryssa Kouveliotou received SURA’s Distinguished Scientist Award.

George Washington University Professor of Physics Chryssa Kouveliotou, a pioneer in the field of astrophysics, was honored with the Southeastern Universities Research Association’s (SURA) Distinguished Scientist Award for her career contributions that include transformational work in gamma-ray science, leadership roles within high-energy astronomy and a legacy of mentoring young scientists.

“I am very proud and delighted with the honor bestowed to me and my home institution,” Kouveliotou said. “I am very grateful to SURA and the colleagues who nominated me for this award.”

In bestowing the award, SURA recognized Kouveliotou’s “awe-inspiring accomplishments and life’s work” and her numerous honors including the prestigious Shaw Prize in Astronomy in 2021 and her election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013.

“This honor recognizes Dr. Kouveliotou for groundbreaking scientific discoveries, forging numerous national and international scientific collaborations, mentoring early-career scientists and overall leadership in the field of astrophysics,” said GW Vice Provost for Research Pamela M. Norris. “She has been a tremendous colleague, has grown and strengthened the GW Astrophysics Group and continues to advance research that demystifies cosmic phenomena.”

SURA is a consortium of 56 member universities that fosters collaborations on significant, transformative scientific research projects that no single institution can handle independently. Distinguished Scientist Award nominees are peer-reviewed by a committee and voted upon by SURA’s Board of Directors.  

Kouveliotou was singled out for “advancing scientific capabilities,” particularly enhancing our understanding of magnetars, a class of dense neutron stars with extremely high magnetic fields.

She is also renowned as a global leader in the study of gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic explosions in the universe. She discovered two physically distinct classes of gamma-ray burst sources and opened a new area of study.

SURA recognized Kouveliotou’s record of collaboration and leadership within the scientific community. She has served as chair of the US INTEGRAL Users group, spokesperson for U.S. guest investigators in the BeppoSAX satellite, councilor of the American Astronomical Society, chair of the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society and deputy director of the Institute for Space Physics, Astronomy, and Education in Huntsville, Alabama. She has also been an active member of numerous scientific teams, including professionals analyzing data from NASA’s Swift and Fermi missions. 

“I have known and collaborated with Chryssa for more than two decades, and her receiving this award is more than deserved,” said Alexander J. van der Horst, chair of the Department of Physics at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

“Her contributions to the research on gamma-ray bursts and magnetars have been truly groundbreaking, and I feel lucky to have witnessed her forging and leading international collaborations that have been at the forefront of high-energy astrophysics. She has done this at GW since 2015 as well, laying a great foundation for the GW Astrophysics Group in the years to come.”

In addition to being GW’s first-ever Shaw Prize recipient, Kouveliotou’s honors include being elected to the U.S. Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016. She was elected as a foreign member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (2015) and as a corresponding member of the Athens Academy, Greece (2016). She has also  served on various committees at NASA, the academies and international organizations, providing advice and insight on national and international priorities in science. 

Kouveliotou will be presented with the SURA award at the group’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in July along with fellow honoree Jizhong Zhou, an international leader in microbial biology and ecology at the University of Oklahoma’s School of Biological Sciences.