Top high-energy astrophysics prize awarded to Niel Brandt

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The prestigious Bruno Rossi Prize has been awarded this year to W. Niel Brandt, the Verne M. Willaman Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State. The prize is the top award given each year by the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society, the largest professional organization of astronomers in the United States.

Brandt is honored with the 2016 Bruno Rossi Prize for his leadership of the research effort that used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to detect X-ray signals from extreme sources at vast distances from Earth. This research has produced the most sensitive cosmological X-ray surveys of the universe to date. These surveys, called the "Chandra Deep Fields," trace the co-evolution of supermassive black holes with their host galaxies across cosmic time, as well as their effect on the gas and dust within their powerful gravitational grasp.

"The Chandra Deep Fields have provided major insights about the demographics, physics, and ecology of supermassive black holes over most of cosmic time. These advances have come from more than 16 years of work by a superb and large team," Brandt said. "It has been an honor to work with the members of this team and also to see the broader astrophysics community actively making Chandra Deep Fields discoveries."

Brandt also noted that "the foundation for the Deep Field discoveries is the enormous effort by the entire Chandra team and, in my personal case, especially by the team for Chandra's Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS)." The principal investigator for the ACIS team is Gordon Garmire, Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State. "My ability at Penn State to get involved with the Chandra Deep Fields at an early stage came from my access to the ACIS team's data," Brandt said. "I expect that these fields will remain a treasure trove of discovery in the coming decades, serving as a long-lasting legacy of the Chandra X-ray Observatory."

Brandt's collaborators on the Chandra Deep Fields work have included graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at Penn State. Many of them, after developing their skills via their Chandra Deep Fields research, have gone on to win professorial and permanent staff positions as well as distinguished fellowships and scholarships, becoming new leaders around the world in high-energy astrophysics.

The High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society awards the Rossi Prize in recognition of significant contributions as well as recent and original work in high-energy astrophysics. The prize is in honor of Professor Bruno Rossi, an authority on cosmic ray physics and a pioneer in the field of X-ray astronomy. The prize includes an engraved certificate and a monetary award. Brandt will have the honor of giving the Rossi Prize lecture at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January 2017.

Brandt's previous honors include a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship in 1996, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 1999, a National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2000, and the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy from the American Astronomical Society in 2004. He was honored by Penn State in 2010 with the title of Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and in 2014 with the title of Verne M. Willaman Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Brandt earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at the California Institute of Technology in 1992 and a doctoral degree in astronomy at Cambridge University in 1996. He was a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics from 1996 to 1997.

Last Updated January 15, 2016