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Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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Gunn, Peebles to receive Crafoord Prize

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has chosen Princeton astrophysicists James Gunn and James Peebles to receive the 2005 Crafoord Prize, a rare honor in their field.

Gunn and Peebles, who were cited "for contributions toward understanding the large-scale structure of the universe," shared the prize with Martin Rees, of Cambridge University. The award, which includes a $500,000 cash prize, has been given annually since 1980 for outstanding contributions in several fields including mathematics, geosciences, biosciences and astronomy. The 2005 award is the fifth given in the field of astronomy.

Gunn, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Astronomy, and Peebles, the Albert Einstein Professor of Science Emeritus, are both longstanding leaders in understanding the origin, development and current structure of the universe.

"In the broadest terms, there are three main areas of astronomy research: theory, observation and instrumentation," said Scott Tremaine, chair of Princeton's Department of Astrophysical Sciences. "Most researchers specialize in one of these areas, and a few have made substantial contributions to two. Jim Gunn has had an outstanding scientific impact in all three."

Regarding Peebles, Daniel Marlow, chair of Princeton's Department of Physics, said, "The physics department is extremely proud to have as one of its members a person who has played such a key role in developing an area that is of great fundamental interest to scientists and non-scientists alike."

Peebles' theoretical calculations in the 1960s predicted the existence and properties of the cosmic microwave background radiation, which has since been established as a key piece of evidence supporting the big bang theory of the universe. Over the decades, Peeples made many other important contributions to the field, including the prediction that galaxies must be surrounded by large quantities of "dark matter," which is now believed to be a major constituent of the universe.

Gunn's early theoretical work helped establish the current understanding of how galaxies form and properties of the space between galaxies. He also suggested important observational tests to confirm the presence of dark matter in galaxies. Much of Gunn's later work has involved leadership in major observational projects. He developed plans for one of the first uses of digital camera technology for space observation, a project that led to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the most extensive three-dimensional mapping of the universe ever undertaken.

Gunn received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1966 and joined the Princeton faculty two years later. Among other honors, he received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society of London and, earlier this month, the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, the highest honor of the American Astronomical Society.

Peebles received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1962 and spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow before joining the faculty. He has received many awards and honors, including the newly established $1 million Shaw Prize in Astronomy in 2004.

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