Astrophysicist Piero Madau wins Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics

piero madau
Piero Madau (Photo by C. Lagattuta)

Piero Madau, distinguished professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been chosen to receive the 2014 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics, awarded jointly by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) to recognize outstanding work in astrophysics.

The prize honors Madau "for fundamental contributions to our understanding of the era of first light in the universe, the ionization and heating of the intergalactic medium, and the formation and evolution of galaxies."

Madau's research addresses key events in the early evolution of the universe, including the dawn of galaxies, the formation of the first stars and black holes, and the reionization and chemical enrichment of the intergalactic medium. The detailed history of the universe during these early formative stages is crucial to understanding galaxy formation and evolution. In recent years, his team has carried out some of the highest resolution computer simulations of the halo of dark matter that surrounds the Milky Way galaxy.

"Dr. Madau's work has helped pull back the curtain on pivotal events in the history of the universe, including the birth of stars and galaxies and the evolution of black holes," said Fred Dylla, AIP executive director and CEO. "The Heineman award recognizes his lifetime of prolific, impressive and influential achievements."

AAS President David Helfand recalled an evening meal he once shared with the now renowned researcher: "When I was on sabbatical in Cambridge about 20 years ago, I had Piero to dinner. We had an interesting conversation about brick-laying, a subject in which he has some expertise and to which he thought he might return if this astrophysics thing didn't work out. Well, over the past two decades, brick-laying he has done--in most areas of modern cosmology--and the Heineman Prize is an apt recognition of his many contributions."

Madau earned his B.S. in physics at the University of Florence and his Ph.D. in astrophysics at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy. He spent several years as an astronomer at the Space Science Telescope Institute in Baltimore, and he served as assistant director of research at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, before joining the UCSC faculty in 2000.

The Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics was established in 1979 and is funded by the Heineman Foundation. The prize, which consists of an award for $10,000 and a certificate, will be presented at a future meeting of the AAS.