Planck Collaboration Wins 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


Scientists in Berkeley Lab's Physics (including George Smoot, Martin White, and Physics BA Shirley Ho), Computational Research and NERSC divisions played integral roles in the Planck mission.

The Planck Team ­— including researchers in the Computational Research (CRD) and Physics divisions at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) — and its Principal Investigators Nazzareno Mandolesi and Jean-Loup Puget, have been awarded the 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize.

The Gruber International Prize Program honors individuals whose groundbreaking work in the fields of cosmology, genetics, and neuroscience provides new models that inspire and enable fundamental shifts in knowledge and culture. From 2009 to 2013, the European Space Agency’s Planck observatory collected data that has provided cosmology with the definitive description of the universe on the largest and smallest scales.

“These measurements have led to the determination of cosmological parameters (matter content, geometry, and evolution of the universe) to unprecedented precision,” the Gruber Prize citation reads.

The 2018 Cosmology Prize recipients will divide the $500,000 annual award three ways. The Planck team will receive $250,000; while Mandolesi and Puget, as the principal investigators on the observatory’s two instruments, will each receive $125,000. The Prize will be awarded on Aug. 20, at the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, in Vienna, Austria.


Berkeley Lab’s Deep Roots in the Planck Collaboration

Berkeley Lab played a deep role in Planck’s success, beginning with the 1992 proposal by Berkeley Lab’s George Smoot and then-visiting Italian scientists Marco Bersanelli and Mandolesi, to build a Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) survey satellite dubbed COBRAS (Cosmic Background Radiation Anisotropy Satellite). Later combined with a complementary proposal called SAMBA (Satellite for Measurement of Background Anisotropies), COBRAS/SAMBA eventually became Planck. All three were members of the Planck team and Mandolesi served as principal investigator of the mission.

Planck was a joint project between the European Space Agency and NASA, and one of the major U.S. contributions to this international collaboration was in data analysis. For nearly two decades, Berkeley Lab’s Julian Borrill served as the U.S. Planck Team’s computational systems architect, a role that earned him a NASA Exceptional Public Achievement Medal in 2016. Other key members of the Planck team at Berkeley Lab include Theodore Kisner and Reijo Keskitalo, computer science engineers in CRD; Shirley Ho, senior scientist in the Physics Division and Cooper Siegel Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University; and Martin White, Berkeley Lab faculty senior scientist in the Physics Division and a professor in the Physics and Astronomy departments at UC Berkeley. Kisner and Keskitalo implemented the supercomputing framework for Planck data analysis and received numerous NASA Public Service and Group Achievement awards. White served on the Planck Editorial Board and chaired the U.S. Internal Advisory Board on Planck, and both White and Ho shared the NASA group achievement award for Planck in 2010.

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Linda Vu