Wolszczan Featured on Millennium Stamp Set with Pope
John Paul, Lech Walesa, and Nicolaus Copernicus
February 2002 -- Alexander
Wolszczan, Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at
Penn State and discoverer of the first planets found outside our solar
system, has been honored by the country of Poland in having his likeness
featured on a special set of 16 postage stamps celebrating
the past millennium. Also featured on the stamp with Wolszczan are
Nicolaus Copernicus, considered by many to be the founder of modern astronomy,
and the Arecibo radiotelescope, which Wolszczan used in his discovery
of the planets.
"I have been told that the design of the stamp is intended to celebrate
a continuation of a good tradition in astronomy in my homeland,"
Wolszczan said. "Copernicus moved us from the center of the universe
to where we are now. Since then, many important steps have been taken
to understand our position in the universe. My discovery is just one of
many steps that have been taken."
Wolszczan's pairing with Copernicus is particularly apt, considering both
lived in Torun, Poland, both are pioneers in astronomy and Wolszczan earned
his master's and doctoral degrees from Nicolaus Copernicus University
in Torun. Copernicus, who lived from 1473 to 1543, developed the Copernican
system, which placed the sun at the center of planetary orbits. Wolszczan
became the first person to discover planets outside our solar system in
1992, when he used the 1,000-foot Arecibo radiotelescope to detect three
planets orbiting a rapidly spinning neutron star. His discovery, which
suggested that planets might be plentiful throughout the universe, opened
the door to the current intense era of planet hunting.
Wolszczan said his honor can inspire future scientists all over the world.
"Certainly it immediately tells you that if you work hard enough,
make good progress, and have a little bit of good luck, you can go pretty
far in science just as you can in other domains," he said. "In
countries such as my homeland where it is more difficult to achieve something,
such encouragement is especially inspiring to young people."
The Polish 16-stamp set, titled "Polish Millennium," summarizes
the last 1,000 years of history, culture, and science in Poland. Each
stamp represents a different field of life, including: Christianity; parliamentarism;
history of political publications; theater; independence; internationalist
traditions of the polish military forces; astronomy; education; traditions
of the Polish army; the struggle for independence; art; music; Poland
in the European system; Polish symbols; Polish sport; and, language, letters,
Other prominent figures featured on individual stamps in the set include
Pope John Paul II and popular labor leader Lech Walesa, who was awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and elected his country's president in 1990.
"I'm very pleased to be on the stamp and it also feels a little bit
strange because I never expected it would go that far," Wolszczan
said. "I feel happy and a little bit embarrassed."
Among Wolszczan's previous honors are the Marian Smoluchowski Medal
the highest prize awarded by the Polish Physical Society. Previously,
he was presented with the Gold Medal Award of the American Institute of
Polish Culture in 2000, the Commander Cross of the Order of Merit Award
from the president of Poland in 1997, the Casimir Funk Natural Sciences
Award from the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, and the
Beatrice M. Tinsley Award from the American Astronomical Society in 1996.
He also received the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding
Achievement in 1994, the Popular Science Award for "Best of What's
New" in 1994, the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation award in 1993, and
the Annual Award of the Foundation for Polish Science in 1992. Wolszczan
was named an Evan Pugh Professor in 1998, the highest distinction Penn
State can bestow upon a faculty member.
Images of both the 16-stamp set and the individual stamp featuring Wolszczan
are available on the internet at
< http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/Wolszczan2-2002.htm >.
Information on obtaining the Polish Millenium stamp set is available from
Hank Bieniecki at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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