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Conny Aerts

    Conny Aerts
    Institute of Astronomy
    Leuven University
    Celestijnenlaan 200D
    3001 Leuven, Belgium
    +32 16 32 70 28

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Conny Aerts graduated as mathematician from Antwerp University in 1988 and defended her PhD thesis in astrophysics at the University of Leuven in 1993. Through competitive personal grants, she continued her career as postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders from 1993 until 2001, performing numerous stays abroad in Europe, Chile and the USA. She was appointed as Lecturer (2001), as Associate Professor (2004) and subsequently as Full professor (2007) at the University of Leuven. Since 2004, she also leads the Chair in Asteroseismology at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

Conny's research expertise concerns stellar physics, including stellar structure and evolution, as well as variable stars. She is one of the pioneers of the research domain of asteroseismology, which received a major boost since the MOST (2003), CoRoT (2006), and Kepler (2009) space missions became operational. Prior to the era of high-precision space photometry, Conny developed rigorous mathematical methods to detect and identify non-radial pulsation modes in optically bright stars from high-precision spectroscopy.  Big data mining is another of her key competences, with the design and application of statistical classification methods based on multivariate Gaussian mixtures and clustering.  This led to the discovery and interpretation of numerous gravity-mode pulsators in the Hipparcos, CoRoT, and Kepler databases.  Along with her appointment as Chair in Asteroseismology at the Radboud University Nijmegen in 2004, Conny introduced herself into the topic of subdwarf stars and their binarity and pulsations.

In 2008, Conny was awarded an ERC Advanced Grant, PROSPERITY to evaluate stellar models with unprecedented probing power. This was achieved by exploiting the high-precision data from CoRoT and Kepler. Her PhD students made major contributions to the field, such as the discovery of non-radial pulsation modes, of dipole mixed modes, and of non-rigid rotation in red giant stars, following her own earlier detections of core overshooting and core rotation in massive stars.  This culminated in the 2012 Francqui Prize, also termed Belgian Nobel Prize, where Conny was the first woman to receive this prestigious award in the category Science & Technology since its creation in 1933. The ERC offered her a 2nd AdG, MAMSIE (Mixing and Angular Momentum tranSport in massIvE Stars, 2016-2020) to bridge stellar physics and 3D hydrodynamics with the aim to remedy major shortcomings in stellar evolution theory of massive stars. 

Until 2017, Conny was the supervisor of 42 Master thesis students, of 23 graduated PhD students, and of 14 externally recruited postdocs. In addition, she took part in more than 50 PhD examination committees. Since 2001, she has been teaching various courses in the Master Astronomy & Astrophysics at Leuven and Nijmegen universities while she also led training courses on gender-related, mentor-mentee and science communication & outreach topics.  Finally, Conny is member of numerous international expert committees and advisory boards worldwide. As Belgian PI, she is heavily involved in the ESA M3 space mission PLATO (launch 2025).

Conny is married and mother of two children, born in 1994 and 1998. When not working and not with her children, you can find her jogging, dining in fancy restaurants, @the movies, @the sauna or sipping champagne among friends.

Current Positions

  • Vice-Dean Communication & Outreach, Faculty of Science, University of Leuven, Belgium
  • Director, Institute of Astronomy, Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Leuven, Belgium
  • 100% Full Professor at the University of Leuven, Belgium

  • 10% Adjunct Professor leading the Chair “Asteroseismology” at the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands

Scientific Prizes and Awards 

  • 17/11/2016: Commander in the Order of Leopold, highest civilian recognition offered through Royal Decree by His Majesty King Philippe for services to the Kingdom of Belgium.
  • 13/6/2012: recipient of the Francqui Prize (also termed “Belgian Nobel Prize”) handed over by King Albert II of Belgium on behalf of the Francqui Foundation.
  • 2010: Honorary Fellowship, Royal Astronomical Society, UK.
  • 26 ième Prix biennale Paul & Marie Stroobants, Académie Royale des Sciences, des lettres & des beaux-arts de Belgique, 2003. Award text: “For her ensemble of work in asteroseismology, and in particular for her recent study of the star HD 129929 published in the prestigious journal Science”.
  • 1998 Kiwanis Club Award in Science & Technology, University of Leuven. Yearly open contest among the post-doctoral researchers with less than 5 year postdoc experience, offered by the Research Council of the University of Leuven.
  • 1995 Biennial astronomy prize “Henry Van der Linden”, Royal Flemish Academy of the Sciences and Arts of Belgium. 

Selected Outreach Events and Products

Ten Representative Publications

Notation: PhD student of Conny Aerts at the time of publication. 

Full Publication List

Funded Supervised PhD Students

Pablo Marcos Arenal, Mario Ausseloos, Paul Beck, Steven Bloemen, Jonas Blomme, Maryline Briquet, Peter De Cat, Joris De Ridder, Jonas Debosscher, Pieter Degroote, Maarten Desmet, Rachel Drummond, Saskia Hekker, Haili Hu, Katrien Kolenberg, Karolien Lefever, Peter Pápics, Sofie Saesen, Valentina SchmidKatrien Uytterhoeven, Jeroen Vandersteen, Maja Vučković, Kadri Yakut

Funded Supervised Externally Recruited Postdocs

Caroline Barban, Fabien Carrier, Laurent Eyer, Anwesh Mazumdar, Ehsan Moravveji, Thierry Morel, Coralie Neiner, Peter Nemeth, Raquel Oreiro, Roy Oestensen, Andrew Tkachenko, Santiago Andres Triana, Wolfgang Zima, Konstanze Zwintz

Current Teaching Activities

Course in the Bachelor of Physics (Leuven and Kortrijk Branches of Leuven University)

Courses in the Master Astronomy and  Astrophysics

International Responsibilities and Committees

  • 2016 – present: Member of the Board of Directors of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO).
  • 2015 – present: member of the European Space Sciences Committee (ESSC), European Science Foundation (ESF).
  • 2014 & 2016: Chairwoman, Consolidator Grants Panel, PE9: Universe Sciences, Horizon2020, European Research Council.
  • 2013 – present: Member of the Scientific Board of the Royal Observatory of Belgium.
  • 2013 – present: Member of the Board of Directors, the Netherlands Organisation for Space Science Research (SRON).
  • 2012 – present: jury member, Science Awards in Astronomy and Astrophysics, “Académie Royale des Sciences, des lettres & des beaux-arts de Belgique”, Royal Academy of Belgium, French-speaking Branch.
  • 2011 – present: Member of the “Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van Wetenschappen, Letteren en Kunsten”, Royal Academy of Belgium, Flemish Branch; member of several of its award committees.
  • 2009 – present: Belgian PI of the ESA M3 space mission PLATO.
  • 2015 – 2016: Member of the  “Academy Professorship Prize” committee of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), chamber for the natural sciences.
  • 2013 – 2015: Member of the Division G (“Stars and Stellar Physics”) Steering Committee, International Astronomical Union.
  • 2007 – 2015: Member of the Steering Committee of the NASA Kepler missions Asteroseismology Science Consortium (KASC).
  • 2009 – 2014: Member of the Science Advisory Committee, Las Cumbres Observatory Group of Telescopes, Goleta, USA.
  • 2013: Starting Grants Panel Member, PE9: Universe Sciences, European Research Council.
  • 2013: Chairwoman of the Observing Programme Committee of the European Southern Observatory, P92 & P93 (75 panel members in 13 sub-panels).
  • 2009 – 2013: Member of the Astronomy Board of the Lorentz Center, Leiden, the Netherlands. 2010 – 2013: President of the board.
  • 2002 – 2013: Belgian co-Investigator of the space mission CoRoT, with responsibility for target selection and data exploitation of OB-type stars, as well as the N3 exoplanet data product delivery to the community. 
  • 2005 - 2012: Member of the selection committee, research actions, Federal Science Policy Office of Belgium (Belspo), Section Space.
  • 26/9/2011 – 16/12/2011: Coordinator of the research programme “Asteroseismology in the Space Age”, Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara, USA. Other coordinators: profs Sarbani Basu, Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard, and Steven Kawaler.
  • 2008 – 2011: Member of the Space Science Advisory Committee of the European Space Agency.
  • 2009 – 2011: Member of “la Commission Scientifique/Sciences Exactes et Naturelles”, of the Fonds de la Recherche National (F.R.S- FNRS).
  • 1/8/2006–1/8/2009: Secretary of Division V: Variable Stars of the International Astronomical Union.
  • 2007 – 2008: Panel member of the European Southern Observatory for the Observing Programme Committee (OPC) periods P81 and P82.
  • 2007 – 2008: Member of the PLATO Science Study Team, European Space Agency.
  • 2007 – 2008: Member of the Gaia Science Team, European Space Agency.
  • 2006 – 2008: Member of the Committee Open Competition, Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Netherlands.
  • As of 2003: elected member of the Belgian National Committee of Astronomy. Secretary of the Committee during 2005 - 2008
  • 2002 – 2009: Member of the Evaluation Committee Physics and Astronomy of the Fund for Scientific Research of Flanders (FWO), Belgium.
  • 2002 – 2005: Member of the Astronomy Working Group, European Space Agency.
  • 1/8/2000 – 1/8/2003: Vice-president & 1/8/2003 - 1//2006president of Commission 27: “Variable Stars”, International Astronomical Union.
  • 1/5 – 1/9/2000 & 1/11/2003 – 1/4/2004: Member of the Eddington Science Team, Data Analysis Scientist, European Space Agency.