Spergel wins 'genius grant'


Steven Schultz

Princeton NJ -- David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist whose work ranges from researching the origin of the universe to searching for Earth-like planets, has been awarded a 2001 MacArthur Fellowship.

Spergel

 

 

He is among 23 scientists, artists, scholars and activists who will each receive $500,000 no-strings-attached grants over a five-year period from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The fellowships, known informally as the "genius grants," recognize people who have "shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits, and a marked capacity for self-direction" in their fields.

"From the time of his undergraduate years at Princeton, David Spergel has been an astonishingly bold and creative scholar," said President Tilghman. "He has tackled some of the most difficult and crucial problems in astrophysics and achieved insights that continue to shape the research agenda in the field. He also has applied his tremendous energy and personal warmth to his teaching, which is greatly appreciated among undergraduates today."

Spergel, a faculty member at Princeton since 1987, is known for both the depth and breadth of his research. His work in theoretical cosmology has contributed significantly to scientists' understanding of the origin, structure and future of the universe. In particular, he helped show how small disturbances in the shape of the early universe could lead to the patterns of galaxies and open spaces seen today. He also has added greatly to the study of our own Milky Way galaxy and its surroundings. Spergel is currently studying the nature and effects of dark matter, a type of matter that is thought to account for most of the mass of the universe but which has never been observed.

Although his focus has been on theoretical research, Spergel has worked closely with experimentalists to develop astronomical instruments. He is principal theorist for NASA's Microwave Anisotropy Probe, a recently launched satellite that is measuring slight variations in the background temperature of the universe. His research helped show how this data would provide accurate determinations of the age, size, geometry, and matter and energy content of the universe.

Most recently, he proposed an innovative design for a lens that is capable of blocking light from a star so that astronomers can detect the much dimmer light reflected from planets circling the star. That work helps advance one of NASA's most important research initiatives of the last two decades: to discover and characterize planets similar to Earth in other solar systems.

"David Spergel is one of the most innovative, creative and thoughtful astrophysicists of his generation," said Scott Tremaine, chair of the Department of Astrophysical Sciences. "The breadth of his research accomplishments is matched by his enthusiasm for teaching. He has taught -- and taught well -- almost every undergraduate and graduate course in the department and is one of our most successful and sought-after research supervisors."

Spergel received an A.B. from Princeton in 1982 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1985. He spent the last academic year on sabbatical at the Institute for Advanced Study, where he was also a member from 1986 to 1988. He is currently associate chair of the astrophysics department.

"The MacArthur Fellowship is both a wonderful opportunity and honor," said Spergel. "The fellowship will help me juggle the challenges of research, teaching and three young children.

"I think that there is a public view that scientists -- particularly those who win awards like the MacArthur -- go off and work alone in hidden labs," Spergel continued. "This is not so. I enjoy working together with students and colleagues. For me, the fun of science is working together to solve interesting questions. Almost all of my scientific work has been collaborations with other scientists at Princeton and elsewhere. Princeton has been a very stimulating environment where I have learned so much from the students and my colleagues. Without them, I would not be able to do my research."

Three other Princeton alumni also received 2001 MacArthur Fellowships. Danielle Allen, an associate professor of classics and politics at the University of Chicago, received an undergraduate degree from Princeton in 1993. Brooks Pate, a chemist at the University of Virginia, received a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1992. Geraldine Seydoux, a biologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, earned a Ph.D. in 1991.
 

top


November 5, 2001
Vol. 91, No. 8
previous   archives   next

Contents

 Page one
University responds to safety concerns
Spergel wins 'genius grant'
From Paisley to Princeton

People
Wei to resign as engineering dean
Top postdoctoral scholars bring expertise to campus
Rich pickin's: Bluegrass legend provides ample fodder for biography
Spotlight

Research
Physicists reveal findings that help explain why matter exists
Scholars to explore religion and bioethics

Sections
• By the numbers:
Princeton University Alumni Association
Nassau Notes
Calendar of events


The Bulletin is published weekly during the academic year, except during University breaks and exam weeks, by the Office of Communications, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. Permission is given to adapt, reprint or excerpt material from the Bulletin for use in other media.


Deadline. In general, the copy deadline for each issue is the Friday 10 days in advance of the Monday cover date. The deadline for the Bulletin that covers Nov. 19&endash;Dec. 2 is Friday, Nov. 9. A complete publication schedule is available at deadlines or by calling (609) 258-3601.


Subscriptions. The Bulletin is distributed free to faculty, staff and students. Others may subscribe to the Bulletin for $28 for the academic year (half price for current Princeton parents and people over 65). Send a check to Office of Communications, Stanhope Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.


Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Staff writers: Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, Steven Schultz
Contributing writers: Marilyn Marks
Photographer: Denise Applewhite
Design: Mahlon Lovett, Laurel Masten Cantor
Web edition: Mahlon Lovett