Astronomer James Gunn Named a 2019 Kyoto Prize Laureate

Tuesday, Jun 18, 2019
by Department of Astrophysical Sciences

James Gunn, Emeritus Eugene Higgins Professor of Astrophysical Sciences, has been recognized by the Inamori Foundation with the Kyoto Prize for his “Outstanding Contributions to the Elucidation of Cosmic History Based on a Large-Scale Wide-Field Observation”.  This award honors Gunn for his seminal work leading a team of scientists on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) used to map the evolutionary history of the universe using an innovative telescope and state-of-the-art instrumentation. The project has led to numerous breakthroughs, ranging from the relationship between physical composition and orbits for asteroids in our own solar system, to mapping streams of stars in the halo of the Milky Way, to the imprint of sound waves in the early universe on the distribution of galaxies, to the discovery of the most distant quasars known.   As cited on the Kyoto Prize’s website, “The SDSS is now regarded as the most successful project in the history of observational astronomy”.

A uniquely talented astronomer, James Gunn has made fundamental contributions in theory, observation, and instrumentation. Notable examples of his work include: building the first camera to operate on the Hubble Space Telescope; laying the theoretical groundwork for much of our modern understanding of galaxy formation; and leading the construction of the Prime Focus Spectograph(PFS), which has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the evolution and distribution of galaxies in the distant universe. 

The Kyoto Prize is given annually by the Inamori Foundation to recognize leading contributors in three areas: Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Art and Philosophy. A multi-tiered and impartial selection process selects laureates who have made immense progress to better humanity with advances in the areas of science, culture and spirituality. An award ceremony will take place in Kyoto, Japan in November with each laureate receiving a diploma, a gold medal and a prize of 100 million yen. 

Additional information about this story can be read on Princeton University’s news homepage.