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Frank H Shu

in recognition of his outstanding life-time contributions in theoretical astronomy.


Frank H Shu, made his most important contributions in the area of star formation. Since antiquity, human beings’ intellectual curiosity has been drawn to the twinkling lights of countless stars. Our fascination about these heavenly bodies is not just limited to what they are and their role in the grand order of nature, but also extends to their origin and its implications for the very roots of our own existence. Although the present astronomical census reveals that the energy content of the Universe is mostly locked up in dark matter and dark energy, stars remain as the basic building blocks of galaxies, the predominant beacons of visible light from remote cosmic corners to our immediate neighborhood, and the sources of complex nuclei which are the essential ingredients of life and its supporting planetary habitats. In the forefront quests to investigate the emergence of structure on galactic scales and beyond as well as the origin of the solar system, a thorough understanding of the star formation process is essential.

The conventional concept is built on the hypothesis that stars form from dense clouds of interstellar gas which congregate, cool, and eventually collapse under their own weight. However, this idealized paradigm has been challenged in the past two decades to account for the observational discoveries of far more complex stellar nurseries which are shrouded with turbulent gas, threaded by chaotic magnetic fields, and stirred up by jets of gas emerging from newly forming stars. These observational breakthroughs are made possible by advances in high-precision and large-aperture ground-based instruments and the Hubble space telescope. The launch of space-borne infrared detectors was particularly important in providing astronomers with tools to pierce through the intervening clouds and Earth’s atmosphere and to peek directly at star forming sites.

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An Essay on the Prize

In a career that spans forty-five years, Professor Frank H Shu has spurred fundamental changes in the existing paradigms of three different fields of astrophysics: galactic dynamics, stellar evolution, and the astrophysics of small bodies in the solar system.

Shu’s research career began auspiciously in 1964 with the publication, together with his adviser C C Lin, on the density-wave theory of spiral structure in disk galaxies. Although highly controversial at its inception, this theory has since gathered widespread observational support and computational elaboration. The philosophy that useful theories must be testable has informed all of his subsequent research. Shu has been at the forefront of theoretical developments, particularly with his group’s semi-analytical investigations of the nonlinear, non-ideal theory as applied to galactic shocks in the 1970s and resonantly forced analogues in Saturn’s rings in the 1980s.

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About the Laureates
Frank H Shu (1943-2023)

Frank H Shu, born 1943 in Kunming, PRC, currently a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Academia Sinica, Taiwan. He received his BSc in Physics from MIT in 1963 and his PhD in Astronomy from Harvard University in 1968. He has been a member of the faculty and Chair of the Astronomy Department at UC Berkeley before becoming the President of the National Tsinghua University, Taiwan in 2002. From 1994 to 1996 he served as President of the American Astronomical Society and is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

16 June 2009, Hong Kong

Professor Shu passed away in Atherton, CA, USA, on 22 April, 2023

Feature Story
The Shaw Prize Lecture in Astronomy 2009