Professor Emerita Roberta Humphreys receives prestigious 2024 Herschel Medal in observational astrophysics

Humphreys is one of only 29 Herschel Medal recipients worldwide since 1974

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (01/30/2024)—University of Minnesota Twin Cities College of Science and Engineering Professor Roberta Humphreys has been awarded the 2024 Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. The medal is awarded for a single investigation or linked investigations of outstanding merit in observational astrophysics. 

Humphreys is one of only 29 Herschel Medal recipients worldwide since 1974. 

Humphreys, a Professor Emerita in the University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy, was honored for her “discovery of the empirical upper luminosity boundary for the most massive stars in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.” This was based on the research paper that Humphreys and Professor Kris Davidson wrote in 1979, which is known as the Humphreys-Davidson Limit. Humphreys said that this research “was not predicted by theory and greatly influenced future work on massive star evolution.”

The discovery of the upper luminosity boundary changed the thinking of massive star evolution. It is a major component to energy feedback in star formation and the evolution of the host galaxy. 

Humphreys has led the Minnesota Automated Plate Scanner (MAPS) project for 20 years. Along with her students, they were able to create an online database of object classification that they used in studies of the Milky Way Galaxy. 

Humphreys has received numerous awards including being named a Honorary Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2013 and a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society in 2021.

Humphreys received her undergraduate degree in Astronomy from Indiana University in 1965 and earned her M.S. in 1967 and Ph.D. in 1969 in Astronomy from University of Michigan. She completed her post-doctoral training at the Dyer Observatory, Vanderbilt University and at the Steward Observatory, University of Arizona before joining the University of Minnesota faculty in 1972. She served as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 2002-2007. She was honored as a Distinguished Professor of the College of Science and Engineering In 2001 and in 2017, became Professor Emerita. 

Read more about Humphreys and her research.

Read more about the Herschel Medal