Carnegie-Dunlap Fellow Maria Drout wins Carnegie Postdoctoral Innovation and Excellence Award

alt=""[TORONTO] NASA Hubble Fellow and Carnegie-Dunlap Fellow Dr. Maria Drout has won the tenth Postdoctoral Innovation and Excellence Award (PIE) from the Carnegie Institution for Science in recognition of her creative approach to science, achievements in mentoring, and contributions to the Carnegie community.

“I am honoured to receive the award,” says Drout, “in part for my contributions to our work on the LIGO neutron star merger last fall. That work was only possible through a heroic team effort and collaboration over two of the most intense months of my career. So to me this award really signifies one of the defining aspects of my time at Carnegie: my fantastic and supportive colleagues.”

In August 2017, Drout and her colleagues at Carnegie Observatories made the first observation of a cataclysmic explosion—called a kilonova—triggered by the merger of two neutron stars, an event that generated gravitational waves detected on Earth by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory and the Virgo experiment. The historic observation marked the beginning of a new era in which astronomers can study astronomical objects and events through both the light and gravitational waves they emit.

Drout’s follow-up spectroscopic work helped confirm the identity of the kilonova and provided evidence that most of the heavy elements in the Universe, like gold and platinum, were created in neutron star mergers and not in supernovae.

An illustration depicting the merger of two neutron stars that triggered gravitational waves and a kilonova. Image: Robin Dienel; Carnegie Institution for Science

Her achievements in training and outreach include her work as one of the original authors for the widely read website,, which features summaries written by graduate students of noteworthy research papers.

She is also a co-founder of ComSciCon, a series of workshops designed to help graduate students communicate technical and scientific concepts. She is currently a member of the ComSciCon national leadership council and is working to expand the initiative into Canada.

In a release from Carnegie Institution for Science, Observatories director John Mulchaey said, “Maria has established herself as a world leader in the field of transient astronomical events. Her efforts regarding the first electromagnetic detection of a gravitational wave event were nothing short of heroic…Her paper on the neutron star merger is one of the most important and most cited of the hundreds of papers that have been written about this event so far.”

And according to Dunlap director, Prof. Bryan Gaensler, “Maria has brought enormous new energy to the Dunlap Institute through her expertise in cosmic explosions and massive stars, and through her enthusiasm for supervising and training students. We’ve been very privileged to have her as part of our team.”

Drout, who will become a member of the faculty in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, says of the award, “I can’t imagine a better send off as I prepare to start my next position in Toronto.”



Dr. Maria Drout
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics
University of Toronto
Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science
p: 416-946-3044

Chris Sasaki
Communications Coordinator | Press Officer
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics
University of Toronto
p: 416-978-6613

The Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto is an endowed research institute with nearly 70 faculty, postdocs, students and staff, dedicated to innovative technology, ground-breaking research, world-class training, and public engagement. The research themes of its faculty and Dunlap Fellows span the Universe and include: optical, infrared and radio instrumentation; Dark Energy; large-scale structure; the Cosmic Microwave Background; the interstellar medium; galaxy evolution; cosmic magnetism; and time-domain science.

The Dunlap Institute, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, and Centre for Planetary Sciences comprise the leading centre for astronomical research in Canada, at the leading research university in the country, the University of Toronto.

The Dunlap Institute is committed to making its science, training and public outreach activities productive and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, nationality or religion.