Prize Recipient

Wen-fai Fong

Wen-fai Fong
Harvard University


"Unveiling the Progenitors of Short Gamma-ray Bursts"


Wen-fai Fong grew up in a suburb outside of Rochester, NY. She received double Bachelor's degrees in Physics and Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008, and earned her Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Harvard University in 2014, where she worked with Professor Edo Berger. For her dissertation research, she undertook a multi-wavelength observational campaign to uncover the elusive origin of short-duration gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), a class of highly energetic cosmic explosions. Her thesis comprised several lines of independent evidence to demonstrate that short GRBs originate from the mergers of two compact objects. She also characterized the explosion properties for a large sample of events. Since compact object mergers are premier sources of gravitational wave emission, the results of her thesis provided vital information for joint electromagnetic-gravitational wave search strategies. The importance of this work was recognized by Harvard's 2014 Edward L. Fireman Fellowship for experimental astrophysics. She was subsequently awarded an Einstein Postdoctoral Fellowship, and started a position at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory in 2014. There, she took advantage of the exceptional observational access to facilities ranging from 1- to 11-meters in diameter to continue unraveling the mysteries enshrouding cosmic explosions. In addition to research, Wen-fai is also passionate about mentoring. Recognizing the importance of her own mentors, Wen-fai founded mentoring programs for graduate students at both Harvard and the University of Arizona.