Heineman Prize for Simon White

2005 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics awarded to Simon White

On March 2 the American Institute of Physics announced that the 2005 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics is awarded jointly to Simon White (on the right in the image above), Director at the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, and George Efstathiou, Director of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge. White and Efstathiou are cited for their pioneering research, both together and separately, into the evolution of structure in the Universe from the earliest times to the present epoch, as examples of outstanding work in the field of astrophysics. The Heinemann Prize is awarded annually by the AIP together with the American Astronomical Society in recognition of mid-career achievement in any area of astrophysics without regard for nationality or country of residence.

The last few years have seen the establishment of a standard picture for the development of all structure in our Universe. The initial explosion, the Big Bang, was almost smooth and featureless, but small departures from perfect regularity were produced by quantum processes at very early times. These were amplified by gravity as the Universe expanded and aged until eventually they collapsed back on themselves to form the galaxies, the galaxy clusters and the larger structures which fill the Universe today. White and Efstathiou have contributed major parts of this picture over the last three decades, using the largest available computers to demonstrate how small fluctuations emerging from the first instants can develop into the rich, complex and evolving structures that modern astronomical telescopes are mapping. Their work suggests that all structure in our Universe may ultimately have grown from random quantum fluctuations of the vacuum. In a very real sense, we, and everything which surrounds us, may have been born from nothing.

Images from the largest simulation of cosmic structure formation ever carried out show predictions for the distributions of mass (above) and galaxy light (below) In a region of the Universe about one billion light years across. This calculation used a month of CPU time on the supercomputer at the Max-Planck Society's Garching Supercomputer Centre (credit V. Springel).

© 2003, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, München