Kyoto Prize gala honors astrophysicist Michel Mayor for discovery of the first extrasolar planet

Michel-Mayor-kyoto-prize-gala-extrasolar-planetThe 2015 Kyoto Prize in basic sciences went to Michel Mayor, a Swiss astrophysicist credited with the first discovery of an extrasolar planet, 51 Pegasi b. I had the chance to talk with Dr. Mayor about his work at the Kyoto Prize gala held at UC San Diego in April 2016. One of the hardest tasks that I perform while talking to and interviewing scientists is parsing accents, which are often complex linguistic mixtures that result from globalized collaborations.

Dr. Mayor’s accent is very thick Swiss-French, and for a few minutes I was utterly baffled by his discussion of the “hockey” planet until he said “hadius”. Then I realized that he meant “radius”. This led me to realize that he was describing 51 Pegasi b as a “rocky” planet. Lucky for me, Dr. Adam Burgasser, an astrophysicist credited with discovering a class of stars called “T Dwarfs” was able to explain the discovery process in his easy-to-understand Buffalo, NY, accent. I made the mental corrections to Dr. Mayor’s comments before I embarrassed any of us.

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