The Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences have named computational astrophysicist Adrian Price-Whelan as the winner of the 2020 Blavatnik Regional Award for Young Scientists in the physical sciences and engineering category. The award recognizes outstanding postdoctoral scientists from academic research institutions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and comes with a $30,000 prize.
Price-Whelan is a research fellow at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York City. Before joining the Flatiron Institute in 2019, he was a Lyman J. Spitzer Jr. postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in astronomy from Columbia University in 2016.
The prize announcement notes that “Price-Whelan’s innovative use of advanced statistical analysis and computational techniques has unlocked one of the biggest mysteries of the universe — dark matter. Utilizing satellite data to analyze the motions of stars throughout the outer regions of the Milky Way, Price-Whelan’s work has provided the first clear evidence of dark matter substructure in the outskirts of our galaxy.”
That evidence came in 2018 while Price-Whelan and his colleagues were analyzing newly released data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft. They noticed a strange string of stars on the outskirts of our galaxy. A gap in the chain suggested that something had knocked the stars out of alignment. Upon further investigation reported in The Astrophysical Journal in 2019, the researchers concluded that the culprit was probably a dense patch of dark matter. The finding suggested that dark matter can form small clumps, an unprecedented insight into the nature of the invisible dark matter that makes up most of the Milky Way’s mass.
Price-Whelan will be honored alongside other 2020 and 2021 Blavatnik Regional Award winners and finalists on September 27, 2021, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.