About the Award

The Henry Draper Medal is awarded every four years and is presented with a $25,000 prize. The Medal honors a recent, original investigation in astronomical physics, of sufficient importance and benefit to science to merit such recognition. “Recent” is defined as a major publication resulting from the investigation should have appeared since the last presentation of the award (2021). Nominations are being accepted now for the 2025 Medal.

Sheperd Doeleman, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard University & Smithsonian, and Heino Falcke, Radboud University, Nijmegen, received the 2021 Henry Draper Medal.

Doeleman and Falcke are colleagues known for their vision and leadership within the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration, which envelops theory, instrumentation, observation, and analysis through the engagement and concerted coordination of international radio telescopes. Both scientists are pivotal in realizing the imaging of the supermassive black hole in the M87 galaxy, supporting Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Their work has attracted both scientific and public interest.

Sheperd Doeleman is honored for discovering event horizon scale structures in supermassive black holes through pioneering work in radio interferometry, and for his decades-long leadership in developing instruments and global arrays to produce the first black hole image, opening a new window on gravity and physics.

Heino Falcke is honored for conceiving of black hole imaging using radio interferometry on a global scale, which led to the first image of a supermassive black hole, and for establishing new measurements that provide knowledge for perception and insight into the nature of gravity and physics in extreme conditions.

Watch their acceptance speech.

Award History

The Henry Draper Medal is the oldest Medal that is presently awarded by the National Academy of Sciences. It was first awarded in 1886 to Samuel P. Langley for “numerous investigations of a high order of merit in solar physics, and especially in the domain of radiant energy.” After receiving this award, Langley continued to have an amazingly accomplished career in astronomy and aviation. Langley served as the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, where he founded the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Air and sea craft, facilities, a unit of solar radiation, and an award have been named in Langley’s honor.

Previous recipients of the Henry Draper Medal continue to achieve outstanding advancements in their fields. Six recipients have been honored with a National Medal of Science, and nine recipients have received a Nobel Prize in Physics (Michelson 1907; Zeeman 1902; Bethe 1967; Ryle 1974; Chandrasekhar 1983; Penzias 1978; Wilson 1978; Taylor 1993; Barish 2017).

Henry Draper was a NAS Member, medical doctor, and amateur astronomer. Draper was a pioneer of astrophotography – a specialized type of photography for recording images of astronomical objects and large areas of the night sky. In 1873, Draper resigned from his medical career to focus solely on astronomy. He directed an expedition to photograph the 1874 transit of Venus, and was the first to photograph the Orion Nebula, on September 30, 1880. In addition to this award, a small lunar crater is also named after Henry Draper.

Most Recent Recipient
Sheperd Doeleman and Heino Falcke, 2021 Henry Draper Medal.
Sheperd Doeleman and Heino Falcke
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Awards will be presented in a variety of fields including biophysics, astronomy, microbiology, medical sciences, and more.

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Award Types

Previous Award Recipients

Barry C. Barish and Stanley E. Whitcomb
William J. Borucki
Neil Gehrels
Charles L. Bennett
R. Paul Butler and Geoffrey W. Marcy
Bohdan Paczynski