Gold medals for stars of research in Ireland

Architectural historian and astrophysicist pick up top academic accolades

Architectural historian Kathleen James-Chakraborty and astrophysicist Stephen J Smartt have been awarded Royal Irish Academy gold medals – the honour is regarded as the highest academic accolade in Ireland.

Prof Smartt, who is based at Queen’s University Belfast, is a global leader in astronomy. He has led international projects that survey the sky to find supernovae and exploding stars.

He has identified which stars explode as “supernovae” and made discoveries that have advanced understanding of what causes these flashes of light across the universe. In 2017, he helped pinpoint the source of gravitational waves in space.

Prof James-Chakraborty is an internationally renowned architectural historian and professor of art history at UCD.


“Through her insight, her reach has advanced the boundaries of her discipline. She has hugely advanced our understanding of modern architecture through her scholarship, her public engagement, and through her role as prominent public intellectual,” according to the RIA citation.

The medals, sponsored by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), were presented by Minister for Education Joe McHugh, who congratulated the recipients for their exemplary work and outstanding achievements.

RIA president Prof Peter Kennedy underlined the importance of recognising world leaders and inspirational figures in their research fields. "Ireland should be very proud of the outstanding research that takes place in Ireland North and South," he said at a ceremony in Dublin.

HEA chief executive Paul O’Toole added: “We need trailblazers in research to explore, to challenge and to explain – the gold medal winners are experts in doing this.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times