Prof Jim Dunlop of the School of Physics & Astronomy has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s (RAS) Herschel Medal for his pioneering research into galaxy formation.
The prize, to be presented at an event in June, is one of a series presented annually by the RAS.
In the golden age of our current paradigm for galaxy formation, the hierarchical Cold Dark Matter Universe, and before the discovery that the Universe needs an unknown Dark Energy to explain its present acceleration, Jim Dunlop was discovering that galaxies as old as the Universe - perhaps, even older - existed just a couple of billion years after the Big Bang.
This surprising discovery towards the end of the ’90s found corroboration among colleagues in a series of papers which led to the acceptance of another seemingly contradictory paradigm, the baryonic downsizing in galaxy formation, which sees the most massive galaxies forming first in the Universe. Jim Dunlop’s fortitude to trespass the known territory pushed the frontiers of extra-galactic astrophysics and observational cosmology towards the limits of knowledge. He discovered the first dust-enshrouded galaxies just two at redshift larger than 3 and played a key role in shifting the understanding of galaxy evolution into the yet unknown territory of sub-millimetre cosmology.
Presently Professor Jim Dunlop, Head of the Institute of Astronomy in Edinburgh, leads the most ambitious international programme to discover and understand the first galaxies, at epochs when the Universe saw its first light. Understanding cosmic re-ionisation, which tells about the link between the primordial Universe and galaxy formation, is a primary goal of modern astrophysics and cosmology.
For these reasons, Professor Dunlop is awarded the Herschel Medal.