D+E+F+W=$500000

Just a quickie this fine summer morning to pass on the news – for those of you who haven’t heard yet – that this year’s Gruber Prize for Cosmology has been awarded to Marc Davis (Berkeley, USA), George Efstathiou (Cambridge, UK), Carlos Frenk (Durham, UK) and Simon White (Garching, Germany). This prestigious award is given for their pioneering work on the Cold Dark Matter model of structure formation, which included some of the first large-scale N-body computer simulations. The “Gang of Four” produced a number of papers during the 1980s that established the idea that galaxies form by hierarchical clustering from small initial fluctuations in a matter distribution dominated by massive collisionless non-baryonic particles, the most famous of their papers being pretty universally referred to as DEFW.

In fact, if you’ll forgive me going on a trip down memory lane, that paper, published in 1985, was one of the first papers I read when I started my research degree the same year at Sussex. It was back in the days when everyone seemed to use a VAX for big computing jobs and the simulations presented in that paper involved a mere 323 = 32768 particles. You could probably run that kind of simulation on a mobile phone these days!

This early work on Cold Dark Matter wasn’t the final word, of course. Subsequent observational evidence for an accelerating Universe resulting in our standard cosmological model being modifiel to include an additional (large) component of dark energy in addition to dark matter. Nevertheless, the core ideas presented by DEFW established the basic foundations of structure formation upon which the current standard model is built.

Incidentally, you can read an interesting account of the discovery of the accelerating universe here; a cosmologist by the name of “George F. Stathew” plays a prominent role in that piece and it’s curious I’ve never heard of him before now.

Each of the four winners gets a share of the $500000 Gruber Prize, i.e. in “normalized” terms, they get $125000 each. Why is it so controversial to suggest dividing citation counts the same way? The DEFW paper has about 1500 citations according to ADS, so I think it’s quite reasonable to award the authors 370-odd each towards their respective h-indices. That’s still a pretty good result by any bibliometric standard!

The four also get a Gold Medal each to wear at parties, although by my previous logic they should have to share one between them. Perhaps George might consider donating his to Arsenal Football Club, as their trophy cabinet is looking rather empty these days?

None of the winners are Australian undergraduates, so this award probably won’t be considered newsworthy by the mass media. Believe it or not, however, the Gruber Prize is held in even higher regard by cosmologists than the Templeton Prize, so I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate them myself for their thoroughly well-deserved honour!

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35 Responses to “D+E+F+W=$500000”

  1. Rhodri Evans Says:

    An excellent book on the discovery of the accelerating Universe is “The Extravagent Universe” by Bob Kirchner

    I’ve used it in a non-technical cosmology course for several years. Very well written.

    I seem to recall that the Magpies’ trophy cabinet is every bit as empty as Arsenal’s. In fact, do the Magpies even bother having a trophy cabinet?

    • telescoper Says:

      Not at all. We won the Intertoto Cup in 2006. Moreover, I recently donated my Cycling Proficiency Badge and a finishing medal from the 1992 Great North Run.

      I would buy Bob’s book, but apparently he can’t spell “Extravagant”.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      You may find it is my spelling which is amiss, not Bob’s. I’m still trying to master English. If only this blog were in Welsh, or Welsh comments were readable by non-Welsh speakers, I wouldn’t have to mess around with the heathen-tongue.

      I’m sure your cycling proficiency medal is in pride of place in the Magpies’ trophy cabinet. Am I the only one who thinks you just made up the existence of an “Intertoto Cup”.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      I met Bob a few times when I was lecturing at Swarthmore College. Swarthmore was part of the Keck North-East consortium, which may still exist. This paid for undergrads to spend a summer working on research projects, I had two students from two other colleges on the consortium working with me. Bob gave a fantastic talk to them all when we got together in the October after their summer research, where they had to present the work they had done. He was/is a very inspirational speaker, particularly to 18-22 year olds.

    • stringph Says:

      I would reply to Phillip, but the blog apparently won’t allow it .. any chance of repeating that Kirshner-Peebles one-liner?

    • There is also a great interview (approximately 30 minutes) with Bob from NPR’s Science Friday back in 2003. I can see that it does not appear to be on their archives – http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/bydate/ – they don’t appear to go any further back than 2007 which is a shame.

      If any readers of this blog would like a copy (I have it in mp3 format), I am sure NPR would not mind if I shared it with them.

  2. as George’s partner I veto that suggestion!!!!

  3. Nick Cross Says:

    As well as “George F. Stathiou”, there is a “Richard McMullen” and “Nick Walter”.

  4. i assumed it was reese’s peanut butter cups (an american staple)

  5. Thank you if you could answer my question:

    If Plank results in 2012 prove that the model is wrong, will the award be withdrawn?

    Thanks again.

    • telescoper Says:

      No – the particular version of CDM that DEFW worked on is already known to be wrong, but the fundamentals remain valid and it was very important work regardless of what cosmology holds in store for the future.

  6. John Peacock Says:

    Peter, DEFW CDM isn’t (wasn’t) wrong. They noted that you could get sensible galaxy correlations in 2 ways: (1) low matter density dominated by lambda, or (2) critical matter density with strong galaxy bias. It’s an interesting matter of history that (2) got all the publicity, so that galaxy clustering went off for >5 years down the blind alley of high bias, even though the truth (1) was staring us in the face from the outset. But it was only because of the detailed scrutiny devoted to that lambda-less model that the field was in a position by 1990 to say that lambda was the only solution that worked (Efstathiou, Sutherland & Maddox in Nature). Of course, a lot of people (including me) hated the idea of non-zero lambda and kept looking for a way out – but it was there in DEFW right from the start.

    • telescoper Says:

      John

      I never said that CDM was wrong, but the standard version of the CDM model that emerged from these studies was a highly biased version with Omega=1 which has subsequently been shown to be wrong.

      You are right, however, in pointing out that they did consider low-density universes with and without lambda both of which actually work rather well without bias. It was all good physics, but galaxy clustering measurements available then weren’t enough to discriminate between the possibilities.

      Peter

  7. Phil Uttley Says:

    I’m sure I will throw the cat amongst the pigeons here, but the concept of a ‘cosmology prize’ which elevates one part of astrophysics above all others is quite unsettling for those of us in the astro community who work in other areas of research. There are just 6 numbers, or so the great Lord tells us, so why do we need 6000 cosmologists to work on them? They can’t all be a Frenk, White or Rees and yet a vast amount of money, especially in the UK – which has a quite unbalanced portfolio of research – is spent on essentially refining error bars on cosmological parameters by less than a factor of two. This type of prize does not help to bring any balance to our science.

    I see the point in advancing inspirational science for Joe Public, but wouldn’t a prize for extrasolar planet research be at least or more inspirational? What with Templeton, Kavli, and now this – I think this is going a wee bit too far.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Well said Phil.

    • telescoper Says:

      It’s of course quite natural that people who work in a particular area find that area more interesting than others – that’s after all why they’re working on it. However, for the record, there aren’t 6000 cosmologists (the total number of astronomers in the UK is not even a tenth of that number) and the subject isn’t merely about putting smaller error bars on parameters.

      I don’t think the fraction of research funds in the UK spent on cosmology is excessive nor is our research portfolio unbalanced towards that area, given the high level of public interest in it. The UK has a particularly strong track-record in theoretical cosmology, of which DEFW is an example, and which is actually rather cheap to do. X-ray astronomy, on the other hand…

    • Phil Uttley Says:

      Okay, I was being deliberately provocative of course, and I do think cosmology is a very worthwhile endeavour. But I also think that since there is (quite rightly) no sort of organised direction to research and that does lead to various trends and fashions that do lead to an imbalance in the research portfolio, which we need to be wary of. This is not just in the UK but globally (although I think the UK is particularly skewed towards cosmological research). Of course we should study the big questions, but there’s also the issue of science per dollar and how many unfashionable areas of research are being neglected where relatively modest investment could lead to huge advances. And of course we know that understanding other things, e.g. supernovae can lead to surprising advances in the big questions.

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Philip,

      Yes, you are right, if a rich benefactor wants to sponsor a prize in some field of astrophysics/physics, then that is his/her privilage.

      I think the fascination with exoplanets is because of the natural fascination with the search for life elsewhere. As I said below, of all the requests I have to talk about astronomy on the radio and TV (about once a fortnight), most requests are about exoplanets.

  8. >> This type of prize does not help to bring any balance to our science.

    The prize is given by a person who has an interest in cosmology – People are interested in cosmology and so want to make a prize in the area.

  9. George Efstathiou Says:

    Just to clarify — the Kavli Prize is for ASTROPHYSICS, not cosmology.
    The 2010 winners were Roger Angel, Jerry Nelson and Ray Wilson
    for their pioneering work on large telescopes. Contributions to instrumentation and technology deserve recognition, so I thought it was a
    brilliant choice.

  10. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Surely the US’s Decadal Review is an attempt to “direct” research in the US, or at least to decide which projects should have priority in funding. Hasn’t the Disunited Kingdom started doing something similar, or did I just dream it?

    Cosmology IS an interesting branch of astrophysics, in fact it (and particle physics) is what got me hooked at the age of 12. But it is also true that some areas of astrophysics research get more attention than others. Exoplanet research is another area that captures the public’s imagination and so, naturally, gets a lot of coverage. I would say about half the requests I have to talk on radio and TV are relating to exoplanet research, even more so that cosmology stories.

    • telescoper Says:

      PPARC used to have an Astronomy Advisory Panel, one of whose aims was to produce a science strategy and list of priorities. I was chair of that panel for a time, in fact.

      The key areas we identified, after numerous community consultations, were:

      Cosmology
      The formation and development of galaxies
      Star formation and the formation and evolution of planetary systems
      Extreme environment astrophysics

      These were chosen to be quite broad, reflecting the wide interests of the community, but I think the rolling review we carried out about science priorities was useful – and it also involved a lot of community involvement.

      Unfortunately, when STFC was formed a decision was made to scrap the Advisory panels. One result of that decision is that 4 years into its existence, STFC still does not have a proper science strategy for Astronomy….

    • Rhodri Evans Says:

      Why does the actions of the STFC not surprise me. Incompetent doesn’t properly describe it.

  11. Hey!!!! I wrote the article on password security on page 11 of the same Starlink Bulletin!!! I had forgotten that šŸ™‚

  12. Rhodri Evans Says:

    I think if I’d written an article on password security I’d want to foget about it pretty quickly šŸ™‚

    I nearly fell asleep from boredom just typing that sentence….

  13. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Philip,

    I couldn’t agree with you more about places which force you to change your password every e.g. 6 months. I have had the same password at Cardiff for well over 10 years, and I assume it has never been compromised otherwise the sysadmin would have asked me to change it. At other places I have worked I have had to change my password every 6 months, and as one cannot re-use the same password, one is forced to think of more and more (worse and worse) passwords. A stupid policy.

  14. Hey – it’s a pretty good article šŸ™‚

  15. Rhodri Evans Says:

    ‘Tis me indeed.

  16. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip: If you collect VAXs etc, you would enjoy the Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Surely no museum in the world has exhibits which are younger (and obsolete).
    Anton

  17. […] number of “greatest hits”, but the most famous paper is probably the classic “DEFW” which won Carlos Frenk and his collaborators the Gruber Prize about five years […]

  18. […] a picture of a simulation showing these structures from the classic paper of Davis, Efstathiou, Frenk & White […]

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