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Professor Mercedes T. Richards Award for Excellence in Summer Undergraduate Research


Prof. Mercedes T. Richards (Photo credit: Wendy Estep and Sara Brennen).

The Professor Mercedes T. Richards Award for Excellence in Summer Undergraduate Research is awarded each year to a student in the University of Toronto’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) who has demonstrated outstanding achievement and growth in astronomy research.

This award honours the memory of Professor Mercedes T. Richards (1955-2016) and her tireless efforts to advance the fields of Physics and Astronomy. Professor Richards performed groundbreaking research across many areas, and advocated for young people within science, including women and other underrepresented groups. 


Award details

To be eligible to receive the award, which includes a certificate and a $2000 cash prize, students will need either to:

  1. Be nominated by a SURP student, research supervisor, member of the SURP Committee, and/or member of either the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics (Dunlap Institute) or the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics (DADDAA), or
  2. Submit a nomination on their own behalf (i.e. “self-nominate”).

An open call for both external and self-nominations will be made in the final two weeks of the program. Submissions will be due by the final day of the program. In addition to the open call, students who receive either an award or an honourable mention at the final poster presentations will automatically be eligible to receive the prize based on their achievements.

The SURP Committee will select the recipient of the award following an open discussion and subsequent vote. An absolute majority will be required, with members required to abstain from voting on any students they have either nominated or supervised. A written document justifying the Committee’s decision and outlining any conflicts of interest will be made available to the Dunlap Institute, the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and/or the Richards family upon request. The recipient of the award will be announced 1-2 weeks after the conclusion of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program.

Award Winners

2022: Madeline Nardin

2023: Sophia Da Costa

About Mercedes T. Richards

Mercedes T. Richards (1955-2016) was an astronomy and astrophysics professor – at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and then later at Pennsylvania State University, where she was appointed assistant department chair.

We are proud of Professor Richards’ Toronto connection: she earned her PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto in 1986. She also held an MSc in Space Science from York University.

Professor Richards’ research focused on computational astrophysics, stellar astrophysics, and exoplanets and brown dwarfs. One of her specialties was binary stars, and she was the first astronomer to use the process of tomography to observe binary star systems, and model how gases flows around and between stars in binary systems.

Professor Richards received numerous awards for her research, including a Fulbright Distinguished Chair Research award. She held a leadership role within the International Astronomical Union (IAU), and was a member of the Board of Advisers of the Caribbean Institute of Astronomy, as well as a councillor of the American Astronomical Society.

Professor Richards was very involved in scientific outreach, encouraging others to engage in science through efforts such as the ‘Summer Experience’ in the Eberly College of Science. Originally from Jamaica, she was a mentor and advocate of women and other underrepresented groups throughout her life.