Roger D. Blandford receives 2020 Shaw Prize in Astronomy
Blandford hailed as ‘universal’ scientist for his wide-ranging contributions
Credit: Roger D. Blandford
The Shaw Prize in Astronomy 2020 is awarded to Roger D. Blandford, Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford University, USA, for his wide-ranging foundational contributions to theoretical astrophysics. This prestigious award is one way in which the Shaw Prize Foundation seeks to promote astronomy, a mission shared by the IAU, and which the two organisations have ongoing collaborations to pursue.
Roger D. Blandford is one of the most outstanding all-round theoretical astrophysicists of his generation, having made foundational contributions to many astrophysical problems including the fundamental understanding of active galactic nuclei, the formation and collimation of relativistic jets, the energy extraction mechanism from black holes and the acceleration of particles in shocks and their relevant radiation mechanisms. His work across this extremely broad spectrum of problems arguably places him among the group of rare “universal” scientists. Furthermore, he has been one of the leaders in the modelling and interpretation of gravitational lensing, and has contributed to the interpretation of gamma-ray data from the Fermi spacecraft and the study of gravitational waves.
Blandford has authored and co-authored classic papers that identified the key processes involved in AGN, driven by accreting massive black holes. These same processes are also relevant to gamma-ray bursts and stellar-mass black holes. He and his collaborators originated key ideas about the spectacular multi-scale acceleration and collimation of relativistic jets, involving complex fluid-dynamical and electro-dynamical processes. One of his most insightful contributions was the recognition that magnetic torques could extract energy from a spinning (Kerr) black hole, and thus efficiently drive jets. This paper together with others on the creation of fast winds from accretion discs around massive black holes have in recent years become even more relevant and widely cited than when they were originally written. This is because high-resolution radio and infrared interferometric observations are just now beginning to directly probe and reveal the innermost accretion and jet formation zones around massive black holes, which Blandford analysed in his prescient theoretical work. The disc winds are also relevant for outflows from protostars.
Also gaining increasing attention is Blandford’s work dealing with the fate of binary black holes, which arise as the outcome of mergers between galaxies. He is also the co-inventor of the “reverberation technique”, which uses the temporal changes of line and continuum emission to explore the spatial structure of gas in the vicinity of distant supermassive black holes, a now-standard technique used by many observers.
Blandford’s contributions to this subject began with analytic work, but in recent papers he and his collaborators have exploited increasingly sophisticated numerical techniques to realistically capture the complex physics in the strong-gravity environment of spinning and accreting black holes.
In addition to his research, Roger Blandford stands out for his tireless participation in community service, culminating in his leadership of the 2010 US decadal survey in astrophysics.
Blandford’s many profound contributions to theoretical astrophysics and his continuing originality and towering presence make him a worthy recipient of the 2020 Shaw Prize in Astronomy.
Astronomy is one of three categories in which the Shaw Prize is awarded, the other two being Life Science & Medicine and Mathematical Sciences. While the IAU naturally collaborates with the astronomy branch, the organisation would like to congratulate the scientists recognised in all three fields. The joint winners of the prize for Life Science & Medicine are Gero Miesenböck, Peter Hegemann and Georg Nagel, for their work on the development of optogenetics, a technology that has revolutionised neuroscience. The winners of the prize for Mathematical Sciences are Alexander Beilinson and David Kazhdan, for their huge influence on and profound contributions to representation theory, as well as many other areas of mathematics.
The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 13 500 professional astronomers from more than 100 countries worldwide. Its mission is to promote and safeguard astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world’s largest professional body for astronomers.
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Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
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Email: [email protected]
Lars Lindberg Christensen