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Durham University Professor Wins Internationally Renowned Gruber Cosmology Prize  
Durham University Professor Wins Internationally Renowned Gruber Cosmology Prize
A world-leading Durham University expert has won "the greatest accolade in cosmology" for collaborative work recreating the growth of the Universe. Professor Carlos Frenk, Director of Durham's internationally-renowned Institute for Computational Cosmology, was one of four scientists to share in the 2011 Cosmology Prize of The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation.

Professor Frenk joins Marc Davis, a Professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics at the University of California at Berkeley; George Efstathiou, the Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology in Cambridge; and Simon White, a Director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, in sharing the $500,000 (304,850) award.

Efstathiou is a Durham PhD graduate, while White is a former Visiting Professor at the University who also received an honorary doctorate from Durham in 2007.

The official award citation recognises the scientists - nicknamed the "Gang of Four" by their colleagues - for "their pioneering use of numerical simulations to model and interpret the large-scale distribution of matter in the Universe".

Davis, Efstathiou, Frenk and White - collectively abbreviated as DEFW - will each receive an equal share of the award, along with a gold medal, at a ceremony this autumn. They will also deliver a lecture.

Professor Frenk said: "The Gruber Prize is the greatest accolade in cosmology and I am, of course, immensely pleased to be a recipient of this honour.

"I am particularly happy to be sharing the prize with three colleagues, some of the most remarkable people I know, who are also life-long friends. 

"When we started working together 30 years ago, cosmology was in its infancy.  We had the Big Bang, of course, but little else and we could have never guessed that cosmology would turn into one of the most exciting frontiers of modern science.

"Progress in figuring out how our Universe works has been amazing, but there is still much to play for - the identity of the dark matter and the dark energy, for starters."

The Gruber Prize recognises both the discovery method they introduced as well as the collaboration's subsequent discoveries.

The DEFW collaboration came together following a 1981 Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics survey of 2,400 galaxies at various distances. This survey gave an early hint to what is today called "the cosmic web"-galaxies grouped into lengthy filaments, or superclusters, separated by vast voids.

Theorists offered two competing ideas to explain why the Universe had formed this way, with both theories taking into account dark matter - a mysterious substance which theorists believed was necessary to explain galaxy motions that would otherwise violate the laws of physics.

Efstathiou adapted a computer code for cosmology which was taken by Davis, Frenk and White to run simulations which tested theories about how the Universe formed and behaved.

They found that a Universe based on the theory of hot dark matter did not match observations. However, a series of DEFW papers from 1985 to 1988 showed that observations of galaxies, clusters, filaments, and voids were consistent with a simulated Universe that had evolved under the influence of cold dark matter. 

Cold dark matter-or CDM-is today one of the two key components of the standard cosmological model.  The other is the acceleration of the expansion of the universe, a discovery observers made in the late 1990s that DEFW's simulations had anticipated. Whatever is causing the acceleration is commonly known, in a nod to dark matter, as "dark energy".

"The DEFW papers were instrumental in ushering in a new era where numerical simulations became a standard tool of cosmological studies," said Wendy Freedman, Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair and Director of The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and chair of the 2011 Selection Advisory Board to the Gruber Cosmology Prize.

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