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2023 Richard Glazebrook Medal and Prize

Professor Belinda Wilkes for outstanding leadership as Director of the Chandra X-ray Center, supporting the operation, exploitation and public relations of NASA's premier X-ray observatory, and significant contributions to our understanding of quasars.

Belinda Wilkes award winner

Professor Belinda Wilkes led the Chandra X-ray Center for over six years during which the Chandra satellite provided the sharpest-focus and deepest X-ray observing capabilities for international astronomers. She was responsible to NASA for ensuring optimal science return from the mission, constructing and inaugurating a new control centre while maintaining satellite operations, and sustaining a diverse staff of around 170 scientists and engineers. She took the Center through
multiple successful reviews so that the satellite continues to provide leading-edge science. As director, Wilkes was the public face of the Center for the media and public events and promoted Chandra's X-ray result in many technical and non-technical publications, press releases and talks. She received a NASA Outstanding Public Leadership Award in 2021 for her service.

Despite administrative demands, Wilkes maintained an impressive level of publications. She supervised students and postdoctoral researchers and led a team of scientists at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and elsewhere in research on active galactic nuclei (AGN) and their effects on their host galaxies and the wider universe. Earlier in her career, she demonstrated that supermassive black holes in radio-bright and radio-quiet AGN have different X-ray properties. She has continued to lead work to investigate the physical processes involved. This has necessarily included interpreting observations made with leading satellite- and ground-based telescopes, and exploring the plasma structures formed by active supermassive black holes on scales from a few astronomical units to megaparsecs.

Wilkes has also been undertaking a census of the full population of AGN and hence of supermassive black holes. This is important because of the feedback processes such objects have on large-scale structure in the universe, but is difficult. Processes near the black holes, or in the environments provided by their host galaxies, can cause AGN emission signatures to be weak or absent in one or more of the wavebands used to find them.

Finally, Wilkes has been committed throughout her career to training the next generation of independent scientists. She has worked with undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and also on public outreach. She continues this work in her current position as a Royal Society Wolfson Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol.