First woman appointed Scotland's Astronomer Royal

Published
image copyrightMaverick Photo Agency
image captionProf Heymans has led research trying to unlock the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter

An astrophysicist from Edinburgh University is the first woman to be named Astronomer Royal for Scotland.

Prof Catherine Heymans was recommended to the Queen for the role by an international panel, convened by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Prof Heymans said she wanted to use the almost 200-year-old title to encourage people to develop passion for science.

She also wants to promote Scotland internationally as a world-leading centre for science, she said.

'Spark and connection'

Prof Heymans said: "I don't think anyone forgets the first time they saw the rings of Saturn through a telescope, but too many people never have the chance.

"As Astronomer Royal for Scotland, I want to change that.

"My hope is that once that spark and connection with the universe is made, children will carry that excitement home with them and develop a life-long passion for astronomy or, even better, science as a whole.

As the 11th Astronomer Royal, Prof Heymans's main focus will be on sharing her enthusiasm for astronomy with Scots from all walks of life.

One of her first targets is to install telescopes at all of Scotland's remote outdoor learning centres, which are visited by most of the country's school pupils.

image copyrightMaverick Photo Agency
image captionProf Heymans says she wants to use her role to share her love of science and astronomy with young people

Prof Heymans is a world-leading expert on the physics of the so-called dark universe.

Her research seeks to shed light on the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter - entities that together account for more than 95% of the universe.

As well as working as a professor of astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh she is also director of the German Centre for Cosmological Lensing at Ruhr-University Bochum.

Created in 1834, the position of Astronomer Royal for Scotland was originally held by the director of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.

Since 1995 it has been awarded as an honorary title. The previous holder, John Brown, died in 2019.

Prof Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said: "The Astronomer Royal for Scotland has always been a distinguished and respected astronomer, and Professor Heymans is exactly that.

"She will also always be distinguished as the first female to hold the position."