David Spergel, Ph.D.

Director, Center for Computational Astrophysics, Flatiron Institute

Biography and Research Interests

I am the director of the Center for Computational Astrophysics. My research interests range from the search for planets around nearby stars to the shape of the universe.

Using microwave background observations from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, I have measured the age, shape and composition of the universe. Our observations have played a significant role in establishing the standard model of cosmology. I am one of the leaders of the Simons Observatory, which will include a planned millimeter-wave telescope that will allow us to take the next step in studying the microwave sky and probing the history of the universe.

I am currently co-chair of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) science team. WFIRST will study the nature of dark energy, complete the demographic survey of extrasolar planets, characterize the atmospheres of nearby planets and survey the universe with more than 100 times the field of view of the Hubble Space Telescope. I have played a significant role in designing the coronagraph and in shaping the overall mission.

Since completing my Ph.D. work, I have been interested in using laboratory experiments and astronomical observations to probe the nature of dark matter and look for new physics. Recently, I have been active in the exploration of data from the Gaia satellite and observations made by Subaru’s Hyper Suprime-Cam.

I am vice chair of the Space Studies Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and also serve as co-chair of the Global Coordination of Ground and Space Astrophysics working group of the International Astronomical Union.

I am also the Charles Young Professor of Astronomy on the Class of 1897 Foundation at Princeton University, and I was department chair for nearly a decade. During my tenure as chair, the department was consistently ranked No. 1 by both the National Research Council and U.S. News and World Report. I am an associate faculty member in both the department of physics and the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton. I have been the primary mentor for over 31 graduate students, 35 postdoctoral fellows and 60 undergraduates, and I continue to advise and mentor undergraduate and graduate students at Princeton.


Here are links to my recent and most-cited papers. My Google Scholar h-index is 105, and I have over 80,000 citations.

Honors and Awards

I have received a number of prizes and awards for my work including:

  • NASA Exceptional Service Medal (2017)
  • Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics (2015)
  • One of Nature’s “Ten People Who Mattered This Year” (2014)
  • American Astronomical Society Kavli Lectureship (2014)
  • President’s Distinguished Teaching Award (2013)
  • Fellow, American Physical Society (2013)
  • One of Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential People in Space” (2013)
  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2012)
  • Gruber Prize (as part of WMAP team) (2012)
  • Shaw Prize in Astronomy (2010)
  • Citation Laureate (2010)
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences (2007)
  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship (2001)
  • Named “One of America’s Top Scientists” by Time magazine (2001)
  • American Astronomical Society Helen B. Warner Prize (1994)
  • National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award (1988)
  • Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow (1988)
Advancing Research in Basic Science and MathematicsSubscribe to Flatiron Institute announcements and other foundation updates