Yale astrophysicist elected head of American Astronomical Society

Astrophysicist C. Megan Urry, chair of Yale’s physics department, has been elected the next president of the world’s premier national astronomical society.

The first Yale professor elected to the post, Urry will become the 45th president of the 114-year-old American Astronomical Society (AAS) in 2014, the group announced.

Elected by AAS members, Urry will serve as president-elect for a year, beginning in June, then as president for a two-year term beginning June 2014. She will succeed David Helfand of Columbia University.

Founded in 1899 and based in Washington, D.C., the AAS is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. It has about 7,500 members and publishes two major peer-reviewed research journals, The Astrophysical Journal and The Astronomical Journal, as well as the Astronomy Education Review.

Urry, an expert in supermassive black holes and a prominent advocate for women in science, will remain at Yale full time during her leadership of AAS, she said.

“It will be a great honor to lead this venerable society, and a true opportunity,” Urry said. “I want to be a strong voice for all astronomers and for their work in service of nation and knowledge. I also look forward to emphasizing the value of the AAS to its members, as a way of expanding the membership.”

Urry’s prior AAS activities include service on its governing council and as chair of both its nominating committee and its Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy.

“In the past two decades we've seen a revolution in the participation of women in astronomy,” Urry said. “We have yet to see comparable gains in the participation of under-represented minorities, or the sense among all members that they are fully welcome. This has been a priority for the AAS for some time, and I intend to add my voice to this issue.”

At Yale Urry is the Israel Munson Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and director of the Center for Astronomy & Astrophysics. She joined the Yale faculty in 2001. In addition to her scholarship, she writes a science column for CNN.com.

“Professor Urry has dramatically advanced the national visibility of astrophysics at Yale, and this is another example of that, said Steve Girvin, Yale’s deputy provost for science and technology. “We’re fortunate to have her on our faculty and delighted by her election as AAS president.”