Two rising young stars in the world of astronomy research have been awarded prestigious prizes by the Royal Astronomical Society. Durham University academics Dr Mark Swinbank and Dr Baojiu Li were awarded two of this year's 14 accolades – the Fowler prize and Winton Capital award.
The prizes from the RAS, the UK's voice for professional astronomers and geophysicists, honour individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to their disciplines.
Professor Martin Ward, head of Durham University's Department of Physics, said: "It is a great honour for Durham Physics that two of our brightest young rising research stars have been given these prestigious awards, one in the area of observational astrophysics and the other in theoretical cosmology."
The Society's Fowler prizes are awarded to individuals who have made a particularly noteworthy contribution at an early stage of their research career.
Dr Mark Swinbank received the 2013 Fowler Award for astronomy for the drive and initiative he has shown in developing new techniques to determine the nature and evolutionary histories of high redshift galaxies seen as they were when the Universe was young. Dr Swinbank was awarded his PhD by Durham University in 2005 and since then has been highly productive, publishing 90 papers in high-impact refereed journals (18 as lead author).
His particular contribution has been to couple the new generation of integral field unit (IFU) spectrographs with adaptive optics and to take advantage of the natural magnification of distant galaxies resulting from gravitational lensing.
Dr Swinbank's work has provided some of the most detailed information yet obtained on the motion of and star formation properties of distant galaxies.
His world-leading contributions include determining the properties of galaxies at large distances (so far away that light we see from left between seven and 11.5 billion years ago), including their rotation and the distribution of their star forming regions.
Welcoming the award, he said: "I am delighted to have won this prestigious award. My observations of distant galaxies measure how galaxies such as the Milky Way were assembled over cosmic time and are at the cutting edge of what is possible with current instrumentation.
"Moreover, they demonstrate what will be more routinely achievable with the new generation of instruments coming on-line, particularly the Durham-led KMOS spectrograph that is about to be installed on the European Very Large Telescope."
The Winton Capital awards go to post-doctoral fellows who have completed their PhDs within the last five years and whose careers have shown the most promising development. This year's recipient of the astronomy Winton Capital Award is Dr Baojiu Li, for his world-leading work on alternative explanations for the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the acceleration in the expansion of our Universe.
The standard model based on cold dark matter and dark energy (the so-called Lambda CDM model) is flawed, yet sufficiently developed promising alternatives are thin on the ground.
Dr Li has pioneered the development of simulations to confront several of the most promising new theories with observable quantities such as the distribution of matter.
He has authored the only computer code in existence which is which is efficiently parallelised and suitable for high resolution simulations due to the implementation of adaptive mesh refinements.
This code is being used by a number of leading groups in the field. His thesis won the Michael Penston Prize in 2009, he currently holds a Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) Fellowship, and has now been appointed to the faculty at Durham University – a position that will start after the RAS fellowship.
Dr Li said: "I am deeply honoured by this award and glad to see that this new research area has received a lot of recent interest from the wider astronomical community.
"It is exciting to look forward to further developments in this area, which will be made possible by future large galaxy surveys and the constant efforts of theorists."
The awards will be presented at the 2013 National Astronomy Meeting in St Andrews in July.
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