Kvinder i Fysik

Fairness Equity Visibility

Nomination of Birgitta Nordström for the KIF Lifetime Achievement Award

Kvinder i Fysik wishes to give this special award to Birgitta Nordström for her amazing work and being a valuable role model. 

Birgitta Nordström was born in Sweden and studied physics and astronomy at Stockholm University, where she was awarded a PhD in 1970. After postdoc positions in Switzerland and Canada, she came to the Niels Bohr Institute in 1972, where she is now affiliated Emerita Professor. She has also held several 

guest professorships in the USA (Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge) and in Europe (Lund in Sweden, Paris in France, Kiel in Germany and Vienna in Austria).

Birgitta’s research is focused on the chemical and dynamical evolution of galaxies, using the Milky Way as a prototype. Her most-cited paper, with more than 1380 citations, is the Geneva-Copenhagen Survey of the Solar Neighbourhood (Nordström et al. A&A, 2004), which showed that the structure of the Milky Way disk is much more complex and dynamic than expected. The observations for this paper were conducted over many years, and the nights that Birgitta has spent on mountaintops in Chile and on La Palma observing are significant and a major undertaking which deserves to be complimented. The paper was the most cited paper from University of Copenhagen in 2004. Her papers are cited more than 9000 times by other scientists. 

Some of the other large research projects she is involved in focuses on studying probable remnants of minor dwarf galaxy mergers in the disk (Zenoviene et al. 2015), looking at the oldest and most metal-poor stars in the Milky Way halo (Cayrel et al. 2004, Bonifacio et al. 2009), and the formation of the chemical elements in the early Universe (Hansen et al. 2015).

Birgitta has also devoted significant time throughout her career to community work in the major international astronomical organizations such as the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the European Space Agency (ESA), the International Astronomical Union (IAU), and as chair of the Board of Directors for the Journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. She has also served as president of the IAU Commission on the Milky Way (now Local Universe) and Co-chair of the ESA SARP for selection of future space missions. She also served as chair for the Space Research Committee of the Research Council of Norway for 10 years, Chair of the Swedish National Space Board for two years, Chair for the IAU Finance Committee for 4 years and served on several occasions as referee and rapporteur for the European Commission and as a consultant for the European Commission project ASTRONET. She is a member of “Kungliga Fysiografiska Sällskapet i Lund, Academy for Natural Sciences, Medicine and Technology”, since 2003 and served as member of the European Commission Grand Jury. 

However, besides being an excellent researcher with a huge dedication for the research community duties as described above, the reason that Birgitta will be given this KIF Lifetime Achievement Award is due to her dedication to KIF since its establishment and her very important function as a role model for women in astronomy. Birgitta has been exemplary in helping young researchers, women and men, by mentoring, encouraging, and helping whenever she saw an opportunity. She also actively enforced equity in the Committees where she served whenever she had the opportunity to do so. She has over the past 50 years taken on the huge undertaking of consistently pushing the systems and structures such that they slowly have become less obviously biased towards women. During her own career, she has experienced a significant amount of discrimination, and the phrase by Inge Lehmann: “I have competed against many mediocre men, and lost” is unfortunately also true for Birgitta. But, like Inge Lehmann, her love for research made it possible for her to “stay calm and carry on”. 

When she was interviewed some years ago for “She is an astronomer”, she was asked what recommendation she would make to young women starting their career in astronomy. To this she answered: 

“Be ambitious, work hard and choose your supervisor with care. Find a mentor, build up a network and try to understand the unwritten rules of the game. Expose yourself to the astronomical community and present your work as often as you can. Do not spend too many working hours on things that are not important for your CV. BUT remember that what works for one person might not work for another. You must find your own way.”

The reason that Birgitta deserves this award is her relentless effort to actively remove the obstacles for young researchers. She did not just give advice, she actively supported people by mentoring, making networks like KIF, putting young women forward as speakers at conferences, etc. 

She is the mother of three children and grandmother of six grandchildren.