Steven Balbus

Steven Andrew Balbus FRS[1] (born 23 November 1953) is an American-born astrophysicist who is the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at the University of Oxford and a professorial fellow at New College, Oxford.[2] In 2013, he shared the Shaw Prize for Astronomy with John F. Hawley.[3]

Steven Balbus

Steven Balbus at the Royal Society admissions day in London in 2016
Born (1953-11-23) 23 November 1953 (age 66)
Alma mater

Early life and education

Balbus was born in 1953 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[4] He attended the William Penn Charter School, received S.B. degrees in mathematics and in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1975, and a PhD in theoretical astrophysics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1981.[5][6]

Research and career

Following his PhD, Balbus held postdoctoral research appointments at MIT and Princeton University.[2] In 1985, Balbus joined the faculty of the University of Virginia. In 2004, he was appointed Professeur des Universités in the Physics Department of the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. He remained in Paris until 2012, when he moved to Oxford as the Savilian Professor of Astronomy. At Oxford, he teaches astrophysical gas dynamics and supervises postdoctoral researchers and students.[2]

Balbus' research is in theoretical astrophysics.[7] He has made discoveries related to gravitational instability in the interstellar medium and several contributions to the theory of thermal processes in magnetised dilute plasmas.[2] He is best known for a 1991 paper, published with former colleague John F. Hawley, describing what is now known as magnetorotational instability (MRI).[2][8] Most recently, Balbus has been working on a theory of the Sun's internal rotation.[2] As of 2016, Balbus has also been lecturing an undergraduate course in general relativity at the University of Oxford; with several lectures coinciding with the discovery of gravitational waves in February 2016.

Awards and honours

Balbus was awarded a Chaire d'excellence in 2004 by the French Ministry of Higher Education.[9] In 2013, he shared the Shaw Prize in Astronomy with Hawley for their work on the MRI.[3] Considered one of the highest honours in astronomy, the prize included a US$1 million cash award.[3][8] According to the Shaw selection committee the "discovery and elucidation of the magnetorotational instability (MRI)" solved the previously "elusive" problem of accretion, a widespread phenomenon in astrophysics and "provides what to this day remains the only viable mechanism for the outward transfer of angular momentum in accretion disks".[8][10]

Balbus is the recipient of a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award,[11] and has held visiting faculty positions at Princeton University (Bohdan Paczynski Visitor and Spitzer Lecturer, 2011) and the University of California, Berkeley (Visiting Miller Professor, 2012). In April 2015, Balbus was elected to the US National Academy of Sciences. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2016.[1] In 2020 he was awarded the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.[12]


  1. "Steven Balbus biography". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 29 April 2016. Retrieved 1 May 2016. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the website where:
    "All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License." --"Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  2. "Steven Balbus". New College: University of Oxford Department of Physics.
  3. "Steven Balbus, Savilian Professor of Astronomy, awarded 2013 Shaw Prize". University of Oxford Department of Physics.
  4. Napolitano, Dean (28 May 2013). "Six U.S.-Born Scientists Win Asian Prize". The Wall Street Journal.
  5. Balbus, Steven Andrew (1981). The effects of thermal conduction in high temperature astrophysical gas dynamics (PhD thesis). University of California, Berkeley. OCLC 79003546.
  6. "Biographical Notes of Laureates". Shaw Prize. 28 May 2013.
  7. Balbus, Steven A.; Hawley, John F. (1998). "Instability, turbulence, and enhanced transport in accretion disks". Reviews of Modern Physics. 70 (1): 1–53. Bibcode:1998RvMP...70....1B. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.70.1.
  8. Samarrai, Fariss (29 May 2013). "Astronomer John Hawley Wins 2013 Shaw Prize in Astronomy". University of Virginia.
  9. Chaire d'excellence. "Programme, chaires d'excellence" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 October 2013.
  10. "Shaw Prize Press Release" (Press release). The Shaw Prize. 28 May 2013.
  11. Wolfson Award. "Royal Society announces new round of esteemed Wolfson Research Merit Awards". The Royal Society.
  12. Massey, Robert (10 January 2020). "Leading astronomers and geophysicists honoured in RAS bicentenary year". Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 13 January 2020.