Women’s honor society awards grant to UC Berkeley astronomy professor

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Janie Chen/Staff

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Prytanean Alumnae Inc. awarded campus assistant professor of astronomy Jessica Lu its 2018 Faculty Enrichment Award and a financial grant of $25,000 Wednesday.

The Prytanean Women’s Honor Society, the first women’s honorary society in the United States, was founded in 1901 on UC Berkeley’s campus. Since 1986, the society has annually awarded a financial grant to an untenured female UC Berkeley faculty member. Past recipients have used the grant for transportation to research sites, child care, conferences and purchasing equipment.

“(The) Prytanean society was founded on the ideals of faith, service and loyalty to the community,” said Kristen Lee, president of the Prytanean Alumnae Association. “We’re trying to support women and promote them for larger leadership roles in campus.”

Lu said the Prytanean Women’s Honor Society has given her the opportunity to meet groups of people outside her field, as well as alumnae from 30 years ago.

Before joining the campus astronomy department in 2016, Lu worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley for three years and then pursued her doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics at UCLA. She was later awarded a Millikan Prize postdoctoral fellowship in observational astronomy at the California Institute of Technology and was a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy.

Lu has written more than 55 published papers and co-founded AstroBetter, a blog that provides information and tips regarding astronomy. She is currently the chair of the campus department of astronomy’s climate advisers.

“It’s a real honor, first of all, to have any kind of individual recognition,” Lu said. “I was certainly surprised. It’s an honor for this particular award because the funds that come with the award you can use for huge range of different things, and I’m happy to able to support some of my graduate students, female graduate students in particular, so they can go forward in their career, go to conferences and present their results and meet new people.”

Lu graduated in 2000 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in physics, and received a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics from UCLA in 2008. Her research is on high-mass star and cluster formation, stellar dynamics, galactic centers and black holes.

“In two years, she’s done an incredible amount for the department besides teaching in research, in terms of outreach, and creating a positive, inclusive environment within the department itself,” said campus graduate student in astronomy Fatima Abdurrahman. “She also has various other initiatives that are centered around not just teaching people science and science skills, but making a positive scientific community. So besides just being the standard research PhD adviser, she’s kind of with students every step of the way.”

Contact Bella An at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @BellaAn_dc.