Subaru scientist gets MacArthur fellowship


Olivier Guyon’s own experiences as a 10-year-old interested in astronomy continue to shape the scientist’s work today.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation last month named Guyon, 36, an astronomer with the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea, one of its 2012 fellows. The award comes with a $500,000 grant over a five-year period to use however Guyon chooses. He said he wants to develop low-cost tools to equip amateurs, schools and other people and groups to help search the sky for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets.

Working with students, especially in elementary schools, is “exactly the right time” to expose children to astronomy, Guyon said Wednesday.

“That is exactly what happened to me,” he said. “That’s an age where you have a very strong curiosity. That gives the kids the motivation to do well in math and science. It’s important to start this at a young age.”

Guyon said his colleagues nominated him for the fellowship. The nomination and selection is “opaque” he said, so the award came as a great surprise.

MacArthur Fellowships come without any stipulations or reporting requirements, foundation officials said.

This year, 23 people received a fellowship. Other recipients include a pediatric neurosurgeon, a journalist, a stringed instrument bow maker and a photographer.

“These extraordinary individuals demonstrate the power of creativity,” MacArthur President Robert Gallucci said in a press release on the foundation’s website. “The MacArthur Fellowship is not only a recognition of their impressive past accomplishments but also, more importantly, an investment in their potential for the future. We believe in their creative instincts and hope the freedom the Fellowship provides will enable them to pursue unfettered their insights and ideas for the benefit of the world.”

Subaru officials said Guyon’s work “has given him a productive context within which to apply his expertise in optics and to address contemporary challenges in astronomy.”

Guyon is the leader of the Subaru Coronagraphic Extreme Optics Project, on which he and his team are designing an instrument to directly detect and image exoplanets and dust around stars outside of our solar system, officials said.

He spends about half of the year working in Hawaii at Subaru, and the other half of the year in Arizona, working for the University of Arizona and NASA, he said.

Although he hasn’t had many opportunities to work with Hawaii Island students yet, Guyon said that is one of his goals.