Hopkins computer scientist and astrophysicist wins international science prize

July 21, 2020

Alexander Szalay, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Physics and Astronomy, has been named a recipient of the 2020 Viktor Ambartsumian International Science Prize. Established in 2009, the prize—named for the famed Armenian astronomer regarded as the founder of theoretical astrophysics in the former Soviet Union—is awarded every two years to outstanding scientists from around the world for significant contributions in the physical-mathematical sciences. It is considered one of the most important prizes in astronomy/astrophysics and related sciences.

Szalay was recognized for “his pioneering work on demonstrating that the dark matter in the universe might be a neutral, weakly interacting particle, and for his contributions to data-driven, statistical cosmology.” He was nominated by fellow Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Adam Riess, his colleague in the Krieger School’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and co-winner of the 20011 Nobel Prize in Physic for discovering that the expansion of the universe was accelerating.

Szalay shares the $200K award with two other recipients: Isabelle Baraffe of the University of Exeter and Adam Burrows of Princeton University. He will receive half the prize money.

As a cosmologist, Szalay focuses on the statistical measurement of the spatial distribution of galaxies and galaxy formation. As a computer scientist, he focuses on the science of big data, and data‐intensive computing, significantly expanding the understanding of the structure formation and nature of dark matter in the universe.

He is a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2004, he received an Alexander Von Humboldt Award in Physical Sciences, and recognized with the Microsoft Jim Gray Award in 2007. In 2008, Szalay became Doctor Honoris Causa of the Eotvos University, Budapest. In 2015, Szalay received the IEEE Computer Society Sidney Fernbach Award for “his outstanding contributions to the development of data-intensive computing systems and on the application of such systems in many scientific areas including astrophysics, turbulence, and genomics.” Currently, he is applying his Big Data expertise from astronomy to large-scale problems in cancer immunotherapy.

“Early in my career, cosmology was an order of magnitude science, where it was difficult to make accurate predictions. Today we understand a lot more about the universe, and we have entered the era of precision cosmology. It is breathtaking to see how far we have come in the last 40 years,” said Szalay.

Szalay is expected to officially accept the award during a ceremony (location TBD) in mid-September, contingent upon travel restrictions at that time.

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