Volker Springel receives Klung-Wilhelmy-Weberbank-Prize for Physics

This year's Klung-Wilhelmy-Weberbank-Prize has been award to the physicist Dr. Volker Springel from the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics in Garching. The award comes with a prize money of 100.000 euro, making it the most highly endowed award for younger scientists in Germany. With his theoretical works on the formation and evolution of galaxies, Volker Springel has made significant contributions towards a better understanding of cosmic structure formation. His computer simulations demonstrated for the first time the important influence of supermassive black holes on their host galaxies, and the numerical methods developed by Springel have become a standard in the field that is widely used around the world. The public award ceremony takes places on the 13th of November at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Since ancient times, the problem to explain the origin of our Universe and the further fate of our world is one of the most fascinating scientific questions among all. Modern cosmology has now developed a standard model for cosmic structure formation that is based on the postulated existence of new forms of matter and energy, the so-called dark matter and dark energy. The theoretical studies of Volker Springel play an important role for the further development and the testing of this theory. His numerical calculations on supercomputers allow a study of the evolution of the Universe since the Big Bang, over a period of more than 13 billion years, under the influence of dark matter and dark energy. Only with such detailed calculations it is possible to decypher the complex physical processes of galaxy formation and to make precise predictions for the distribution of matter in space, for the abundance of galaxies of different sizes and shapes, or for the history of cosmic star formation. The numerical package GADGET developed by Springel for this purpose has meanwhile become the most successful tool of its kind and is used by research groups around the world.

Using simulations that also included the evolution of supermassive black holes, Springel could directly show that these enormous gravity traps at the centres of galaxies have an important influence on their host galaxies. During the coalescence of galaxies large amounts of hydrogen and helium gas are driven to the galactic centre, where it becomes available to feed the black hole. This allows the black hole to grow rapidly in mass and shine with high luminosity as a quasar. The local energy deposition eventually expells a significant part of the gas, causing the quasar to die, and leaving behind an elliptical galaxy which has nearly lost the ability to form young stars.

The Klung-Wilhelmy-Weberbank-Prize is one of the most highly endowed privately funded scientific prizes. Since 2001 the prize is awarded as part of a cooperation between the Otto-Klung-Foundation at the Freie Universität Berlin and the Weberbank, alternating every year for a physicist or a chemist. In the year 2007, the Dr. Wilhelm-Foundation joined the prize. The decision for Springel was made following a proposal by the selection committee, chaired by Prof. Günter Kaindl, at the Department of Physics of the Freie Universität Berlin.