Archive for IAU

The 2019 Gruber Prize for Cosmology: Nick Kaiser and Joe Silk

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on May 9, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve just heard that the Gruber Foundation has announced the winners of this year’s Gruber Prize for cosmology, namely Nick Kaiser and Joe Silk. Worthy winners the both of them! Congratulations!

Here’s some text taken from the press release:

The recipients of the 2019 prize are Nicholas Kaiser and Joseph Silk, both of whom have made seminal contributions to the theory of cosmological structure formation and to the creation of new probes of dark matter. Though they have worked mostly independently of each other, the two theorists’ results are complementary in these major areas, and have transformed modern cosmology — not once but twice.

The two recipients will share the $500,000 award, and each will be presented with a gold medal at a ceremony that will take place on 28 June at the CosmoGold conference at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris in France.

The physicists’ independent contributions to the theory of cosmological structure formation have been instrumental in building a more complete picture of how the early Universe evolved into the Universe as astronomers observe it today. In 1967 and 1968, Silk predicted that density fluctuations below a critical size in the Cosmic Microwave Background, the remnant radiation “echoing” the Big Bang, would have dissipated. This phenomenon, later verified by increasingly high precision measurements of the CMB, is now called “Silk Damping”.

In the meantime, ongoing observations of the large-scale structure of the Universe, which evolved from the larger CMB fluctuations, were subject to conflicting interpretations. In a series of papers beginning in 1984, Kaiser helped to resolve these debates by providing statistical tools that would allow astronomers to separate “noise” from data, reducing ambiguity in the observations.

Kaiser’s statistical methodology was also influential in dark matter research; the DEFW collaboration (Marc Davis, George Efstathiou, Carlos Frenk, and Simon D. M. White) utilised it to determine the distribution and velocity of dark matter in the Universe, and discovered its non-relativistic nature (moving at a velocity not approaching the speed of light). Furthermore, Kaiser devised an additional statistical methodology to detect dark matter distribution through weak lensing — an effect by which foreground matter distorts the light of background galaxies, providing a measure of the mass of both. Today weak lensing is among cosmology’s most prevalent tools.

Silk has also been impactful in dark matter research, having proposed in 1984 a method of investigating dark matter particles by exploring the possibilities of their self-annihilations into particles that we can identify (photons, positrons and antiprotons). This strategy continues to drive research worldwide.

Both Kaiser and Silk are currently affiliated with institutions in Paris, Kaiser as a professor at the École Normale Supérieure, and Silk as an emeritus professor and a research scientist at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris (in addition to a one-quarter appointment at The John Hopkins University). Among their numerous significant contributions to their field, their work on the CMB and dark matter has truly revolutionised our understanding of the Universe.

I haven’t worked directly with either Nick Kaiser or Joe Silk but both had an enormous influence on me, especially early on in my career. When I was doing my PhD, Nick was in Cambridge and Joe was in Berkeley. In fact I think Nick was the first person ever to ask me a question during a conference talk – which terrified the hell out of me because I didn’t know him except by scientific reputation and didn’t realize what a nice guy he is! Anyway his 1984 paper on cluster correlations was the direct motivation for my very first publication (in 1986).

I don’t suppose either will be reading this but heartiest congratulations to both, and if they follow my advice they won’t spend all the money in the same shop!

P.S. Both Nick and Joe are so distinguished that each has appeared in my Astronomy Lookalikes gallery (here and here).


Voting Matters

Posted in Maynooth, Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 4, 2018 by telescoper

At last I have this afternoon free of teaching and other commitments, and having fortified myself with lunch in Pugin Hall, I’m preparing to make an attempt on the summit of the Open Journal of Astrophysics now that all the outstanding administrative obstacles have been cleared. Before shutting myself away to do up the loose ends, however, I thought I’d do a quick post about a couple of electoral matters.

The first relates to this, which arrived at my Maynooth residence the other day:

This document reminded me that there is a referendum in Ireland on the same day as the Presidential election I mentioned at the weekend. The contents of the booklet can be found here. In brief,

At present, the Constitution says that publishing or saying something blasphemous is an offence punishable under law. Blasphemy is currently a criminal offence. The referendum will decide if the Constitution should continue to say that publishing or saying something blasphemous is a criminal offence. If the referendum is passed, the Oireachtas will be able to change the law so that blasphemy is no longer a criminal offence.

Having read the booklet thoroughly and thereby having understood all the issues, and the implications of the vote,  I have decided that I will vote in favour of making blasphemy compulsory.

The other matter being put to a vote is something I just found out about today when I got an email from the International Astronomical Union concerning an electronic vote on Resolution B4, that the Hubble Law be renamed the Hubble-Lemaître law. For background and historical references, see here. I don’t really have strong opinions on this resolution, nor do I see how it could be enforced if it is passed but, for the record, I voted in favour because I’m a fan of Georges Lemaître



Statistical Challenges in 21st Century Cosmology

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on December 2, 2013 by telescoper

I received the following email about a forthcoming conference which is probably of interest to a (statistically) significant number of readers of this blog so I thought I’d share it here with an encouragement to attend:


IAUS306 – Statistical Challenges in 21st Century Cosmology

We are pleased to announce the IAU Symposium 306 on Statistical Challenges in 21st Century Cosmology, which will take place in Lisbon, Portugal from 26-29 May 2014, with a tutorial day on 25 May.  Apologies if you receive this more than once.

Full exploitation of the very large surveys of the Cosmic Microwave Background, Large-Scale Structure, weak gravitational lensing and future 21cm surveys will require use of the best statistical techniques to answer the major cosmological questions of the 21st century, such as the nature of Dark Energy and gravity.

Thus it is timely to emphasise the importance of inference in cosmology, and to promote dialogue between astronomers and statisticians. This has been recognized by the creation of the IAU Working Group in Astrostatistics and Astroinformatics in 2012.

IAU Symposium 306 will be devoted to problems of inference in cosmology, from data processing to methods and model selection, and will have an important element of cross-disciplinary involvement from the statistics communities.

Keynote speakers

• Cosmic Microwave Background :: Graca Rocha (USA / Portugal)

• Weak Gravitational Lensing :: Masahiro Takada (Japan)

• Combining probes :: Anais Rassat (Switzerland)

• Statistics of Fields :: Sabino Matarrese (Italy)

• Large-scale structure :: Licia Verde (Spain)

• Bayesian methods :: David van Dyk (UK)

• 21cm cosmology :: Mario Santos (South Africa / Portugal)

• Massive parameter estimation :: Ben Wandelt (France)

• Overwhelmingly large datasets :: Alex Szalay (USA)

• Errors and nonparametric estimation :: Aurore Delaigle (Australia)

You are invited to submit an abstract for a contributed talk or poster for the meeting, via the meeting website. The deadline for abstract submission is 21st March 2014. Full information on the scientific rationale, programme, proceedings, critical dates, and local arrangements will be on the symposium web site here.


13 January 2014 – Grant requests

21 March 2014 – Abstract submission

4 April 2014 – Notification of abstract acceptance

11 April 2014 – Close of registration

30 June 2014 – Manuscript submission