John Kormendy

The University of Texas at Austin

Primary Section: 12, Astronomy
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2020)


John Kormendy is an observational astronomer who works on galaxy structure and evolution. He was born in Graz, Austria and grew up near Welland, Ontario, Canada.  He got his BSc from the University of Toronto in 1970 and his PhD from the California Institute of Technology in 1976.  After postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California, Berkeley and at Kitt Peak National Observatory, he was a Staff Member at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Victoria, B. C., Canada in the 1980s and a Professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the 1990s.  At both institutions, he benefited from access to telescopes at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, which provided the best optical-wavelength image quality prior to the Hubble Space Telescope.  Since 2000, he has been at the University of Texas at Austin, where he held the Curtis T. Vaughan, Jr. Centennial Chair in Astronomy.  He is Emeritus since 2017.  Awards include the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Muhlmann Prize of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and External Membership at the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching-by-Munich, Germany.  He was an Associate Editor of Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics from 2004–2014.

Research Interests

John Kormendy is an observational astronomer who studies galaxies – their visible components (bulges, disks, and stellar halos) and invisible components (central supermassive black holes [BHs] and cosmological dark matter halos). He specializes in galaxy morphology, surface photometry, kinematic measurements, and their dynamical interpretation.  He derives scaling laws that mutually connect galaxy BHs, their host stellar components, and their dark matter halos.  The study of BH demographics is Kormendy's most important research area. He used the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to find 3 of the first 4 dynamically-discovered BHs. His work has helped to establish that the masses of BHs correlate tightly enough with their host bulge components to imply that they affected each other’s evolution.  In contrast, he has shown that BHs do not correlate directly with any other component of their host galaxies, including disks and dark matter.  Throughout his career, Kormendy has studied the internal evolution of disk galaxies that happens when nonaxisymmetric components rearrange disk angular momentum.  This slow evolution provides a heuristic understanding of all commonly observed features that are encoded in galaxy morphologies such as Hubble-Sandage-de Vaucouleurs types.

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