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IfA Astronomer Receives Royal Astronomical Society's Highest Award

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January 13, 2017


Nick Kaiser
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IfA Astronomer Nick Kaiser has been awarded the Gold Medal in Astronomy by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

The announcement was made at the Ordinary Meeting of the society held on Friday, January 13, 2017. The winners will be invited to collect their awards at the Society's National Astronomy Meeting in July.

The Gold Medal is the Society's highest honor, and usually recognizes lifetime achievement. First awarded in 1824, the Medal's past recipients include Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Arthur Eddington and Stephen Hawking.

Dr. Kaiser is receiving the award for his extensive theoretical and observational work on cosmology, including how matter - both dark and visible - is distributed on the largest scales. He was one of the pioneers in describing how this large-scale matter distribution bends light as it travels across the Universe, a phenomenon known as weak gravitational lensing.

"It is a great honor indeed to be awarded the RAS Gold Medal for my efforts in astronomy and cosmology. I am, of course, delighted to receive this accolade, but what makes it all the more sweet for me is that I am in good company as my father Tom also received the medal back in 1994 for his pioneering work on the physics of the Earth's ionosphere! I look forward to hanging my medal alongside his," said Dr. Kaiser.

Nick Kaiser, with Pan-STARRS image of Trifid Nebula

Dr. Nick Kaiser, recipient of the 2017 RAS Gold Medal for Astronomy, with an image of the Trifid Nebula from the Pan-STARRS1 telescope.

His work has impacted many studies attempting to measure fundamental cosmological quantities such as the amount of Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Dr. Kaiser also conceived, and was the original Principal Investigator of, the Pan-STARRS project, whose goals range from mapping the large-scale matter distribution in the Universe to detecting potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs). Pan-STARRS recently released a huge trove of data to the public.

The RAS Award Citation specifically reads:

"Professor Nick Kaiser has had an enormous influence on the development of modern cosmology. His contributions are extraordinarily broad and deep, spanning the range of observational probes of cosmological structure formation, and have become part of the lexicon of the subject. He had the key insight that the large-scale distribution of galaxies is biased with respect to the underlying dark matter, with dense regions favoring early galaxy formation. This was crucial for the interpretation of observations, providing the basic support for the standard “cold dark matter” model of the Universe. His innovative work led to the mathematical underpinning describing the primordial density fields that evolve into cosmological structure. He was a pioneer of the field of weak gravitational lensing by large scale structure and its use as a way to map dark matter, now one of the most promising cosmological probes. He was the first to realize that the large-scale clustering pattern of galaxies in redshift space would be squashed along the line-of-sight, and developed powerful analytical models of the evolution and clustering of galaxy clusters. He produced seminal work on the polarization of the cosmic microwave radiation. He also pioneered a new type of wide-field survey telescope (revolutionizing wide-field optical astronomy) and instigated the Pan-STARRS project that implements some of these ideas, with science return ranging from the solar system to cosmology.

For these reasons, Professor Kaiser is awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Gold Medal."

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS,, founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

Founded in 1967, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakalā and Maunakea. The Institute operates facilities on the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii.