Gold Medal for the Development of the Cosmological Standard Model

Prof. Simon White, Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, wins the highest scientific award of the Royal Astronomical Society

May 10, 2006

On May 12, the Royal Astronomical Society of the United Kingdom will honor astronomers with its 2006 awards. The top award, the Gold Medal, will go to Professor Simon D. M. White for his pioneering research on the evolution of cosmic structure from the earliest times to the present epoch. This work was instrumental for developing the cold dark matter model with a cosmological constant, which has now become the standard paradigm for describing the Universe, and represents one of the greatest achievements in astronomy over the past three decades.

According to this model, initial perturbations were seeded in the otherwise smooth and featureless Big Bang by quantum processes at very early times. As the universe expanded, these fluctuations were amplified by gravity until they eventually collapsed back on themselves to form the galaxies, the galaxy clusters and the larger structures that we observe in the Universe today. As one of his many key contributions, Professor White developed computer simulations to show how the non-linear gravitational evolution of dark matter particles grows the rich and complex tapestry of cosmic structure. A recent highlight of this work is the creation of the Millennium Simulation, which computed the evolution of more than 10 billion particles of matter, tracking the formation of about 20 million galaxies and their large-scale structure in unprecedented detail, throughout a piece of the universe more than 2-billion light-years across.

Professor Simon White is director at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching. His 240 papers in the refereed astronomical literature have been cited more than 25,000 times by other researchers, making him at present the most cited astrophysicist.

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