Who are the two Latin American astronomers who have won the “Oscar of Science”?

When they were little, they gazed with fascination at the starry skies of Chile and Colombia.

Laura Perez and Paola Pinilla always dreamed of being astronomers. Little did they imagine that their lives would intersect and they would go so far. very very

Thanks to his important studies Planet formationLatin American researchers recently won the prize New Horizons Prize in PhysicsFrom the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, one of the most prestigious in the world.

Acknowledgment – ​​Known as “Science Oscars”– It’s been years since both observed the universe.

But how did these two Latin American women manage to carve out such an important place in the major leagues of world science?

Here we say.

Why did they win the award?

Laura Perez and Paola Pinilla – aged 39 and 37 respectively – were recognized along with two other scientists for their contributions to the study of planet formation. Tillman Birnsteel (from Ludwig Maximilian University, Germany) and Nienke van der Marel (from Leiden University, Netherlands).

In particular, they are respected for their prediction, innovation and modeling “Dust Traps” -or dust traps-, which are important when studying the first steps of planet formation.

The protoplanetary disk contains dust and gas.

To understand this complex phenomenon, we need to go back to the moment when a star is formed: it is surrounded by dust and gas. “Protoplanetary Disk”.

In the scientific field, there was a great mystery about how the planets were formed from this dust, because as researchers observed, when it developed, The star “fills” it in a process called “radial sliding”.

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However, scientists discovered the existence of these “dust traps”. Regions within the protoplanetary disc where particles can accumulate and continue to growSurvive in radial slide.

“This is where solid matter accumulates and allows planets to form. Without them, this material would be absorbed by the star,” Laura Perez explains to BBC Mundo.

“There are still many open questions, but today we know that these structures are important for understanding the first steps of planet formation,” says Paola Pinilla.

“if possible”

In an interview with BBC Mundo, both scientists said they felt “honoured” to have the impact of their work recognised.

“It was very exciting… This award shows that impact science can be done from Latin America,” says Laura Pérez.

Chili – who does his research casually Alma Observatory, Located in the Atacama region in northern Chile – confirming that the Latin American continent has a “natural laboratory” that “we must protect”.

Alma telescope

The Alma Observatory in northern Chile has the best telescopes in the world.

“In the past, astronomers took care of our access to the sky, resulting in this award, which allowed us to be in the big league today,” he points out.

It is important to highlight the importance of Paola Pinilla More and more women are entering science.

“Unfortunately, this is a field that continues to be dominated by men. In books, most of the protagonists are men and the authors are men, so one, as a woman, does not imagine herself in that role. But if women are given more roles, they will be excited,” she says.

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Perez and Pinilla are both mothers and realize this is hindering their career development.

Columbian even wrote a book about it “Mothers in Astronomy”There she addresses the difficulties of having children for researchers, shares experiences and offers recommendations.

When news of the award came to light, Perez recalled, “A very dear scientist wrote to me: ‘E.I’m so proud to see you and Paula in this because they’re women, they’re mothers, and they’re Latin American.‘. I didn’t pick up the weight, and then I realized… it’s a really nice feeling,” she says.

For astrologers, a higher purpose is key to fulfilling your dreams.

“Effort and hard work are always rewarded,” says Perez.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,” recalled an officemate holding the mug. That means betting more even if you don’t know where you’re going. To the end,” says Cili.

Pinla concludes: “I would only say to Latin American women: yes you can.”

“Meteoric” life

Both these Latin American astronomers have vast experience in the field of science.

Laura Perez graduated from the University of Chile, where she earned a master’s degree in astronomy.


Latin American astronomers have devoted their lives to studying the formation of planets.

He received his PhD from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). He later worked at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the United States and at the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.

He has been an academic since 2017 University of Chile, where he leads an astronomical research group. He also participates in collaborations with international teams.

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Paola Pinilla, for her part, studied University of Los Andes in Bogotá. At the age of 24 he decided to move to Europe, where he worked at the European Southern Observatory.

He later completed his doctoral studies in astrophysics at the University of Heidelberg (Germany) and a master’s degree at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

At the end of his training, he became the first Colombian to receive Hubble ScholarshipNASA offers grants to scientists who want to pursue their studies at an American university working with the space agency.

Currently, Pérez and Pinilla continue to try to solve the unknowns related to planet formation.

The Colombian is doing so from University College London in the United Kingdom, where he leads a research team on the topic, while Chile observes the phenomenon through telescopes located in the north of his country.

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Misty Tate

"Freelance twitter advocate. Hardcore food nerd. Avid writer. Infuriatingly humble problem solver."

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