Skip to main content

Dr Natascha Förster Schreiber: oration

Read Dr Stijn Wuyts' oration on Natascha Förster Schreiber for the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in July 2019.


Dr Natascha Förster Schreiber
Dr Natascha Förster Schreiber

Vice-Chancellor, it is my great pleasure to introduce Natascha Förster Schreiber, a worldleading astronomer and expert in the formation and evolution of galaxies.

Born in Canada, Natascha’s first venture into the study of the night sky was through a high school summer camp for amateur astronomers in the outskirts of Montreal. By some remarkable coincidence, out of this one summer programme came three worldrenowned astrophysicists that today are dictating the direction of research in galaxy dynamics: the study of how gas and stars move about within galaxies and what that tells us about their life cycle. Among them, Natascha is the one who pushed these studies furthest back in time with her observations overlooking as much as 90% of cosmic history. Observing the dim light of distant galaxies requires use of the largest telescopes situated under the best observing conditions in remote locations such as the Chilean Atacama desert. There are few astronomers who have led larger programmes or spent more nights peering into the depths of our cosmos than Natascha has with these biggest eyes on the sky.

Trained at the University of Montreal, Natascha obtained her PhD Magna Cum Laude from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and built her reputation internationally at institutes in Leiden and Paris before being awarded a prestigious Balzan-funded Fellowship and a Minerva Fellowship from the Max Planck Society. At the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, she has mentored numerous PhD students and early career researchers and built an impressive resume of highly cited papers. Natascha has been instrumental in a number of breakthrough discoveries that have made clear how galaxies matured surprisingly rapidly during the first few billion years. Looking beyond visible light, an approach that was first pioneered by Bath’s own iconic astronomer William Herschel, Natascha’s research helped establish that the early Universe counted twice as many massive galaxies as previously thought, many of which -against expectations- had already finished forming all their stars. She pushed novel instrumentation techniques to demonstrate that star-forming galaxies observed just 3 billion years after the Big Bang already showed a remarkable degree of regularity with ordered patterns of rotation like our own Milky Way. This discovery introduced a paradigm shift in the field of galaxy evolution where the leading hypothesis envisioned a much more chaotic early assembly phase. Finally, Natascha was among the first to systematically map the demographics of powerful galactic winds launched by exploding stars and feeding black holes that regulated the pace at which new stars were born in the early Universe. Natascha’s research achievements stand out as spanning end-to-end the full cycle of the scientific endeavour. She has played a key role in the development of several hightech instruments, exploited them through hypersensitive observations and linked her findings to cutting-edge physical models of galaxy growth. These discoveries have in turn prompted important elements of the scientific case for new observing facilities for the next decade, such as the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, an international undertaking to which Natascha is actively contributing.

Last but not least, Natascha has been a welcome visitor and strong supporter of the Bath Astrophysics Group since it was established in 2015. She is a role model to young researchers here in Bath and across the world.

Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Natascha Förster Schreiber, who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


If you have any questions, please contact us.

On this page