UChicago scientist awarded Heineman Prize for Astrophysics for ‘pioneering work’

Prof. John Carlstrom cited for microwave interferometry and observations of cosmic microwave background

University of Chicago astrophysicist John Carlstrom has been awarded the 2024 Dannie Heineman Prize, a prestigious recognition by the American Astronomical Society and the American Institute of Physics.

Carlstrom, who serves as the Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Physics, was cited for “pioneering work on microwave interferometry and his leading role in the development of the South Pole Telescope, which has led to cosmological observations that have improved our understanding of the large-scale structure and behavior of the universe, changing the field for generations to come.”

Carlstrom led the development and deployment of the South Pole Telescope (SPT), which since 2007 has taken groundbreaking observations of the cosmic microwave background—the leftover light from the earliest moments after the Big Bang still traveling across the sky.

These measurements can help us understand the origin and evolution of the universe and the underlying physical laws that govern it, as well as provide clues to the nature of the mysterious phenomena known as dark energy and dark matter.

He continues to work on SPT and is currently the Project Scientist for a next-generation set of telescopes, known as CMB-S4, to map that light in greater detail than ever before.

“It is an honor to receive this award from the American Institute of Physics and the American Astronomical Society, the experts in understanding and exploring the universe,” said Carlstrom. “I want to note that individuals cannot do this work alone. I have worked with great people, on great teams and I am extremely thankful to them.”

Carlstrom joins several of his University of Chicago colleagues as Heineman Prize recipients, including Prof. Wendy Freedman in 2016 for “outstanding contributions and leadership role in using optical and infrared space- and ground-based observations of Cepheid stars, together with innovative analysis techniques, to greatly improve the accuracy of the cosmic distance scale and thereby constrain fundamental cosmological parameters,” as well as Profs. Michael Turner and Edward (Rocky) Kolb in 2010 for their “joint fundamental contributions to cosmology and their development of the field of particle astrophysics, which have resulted in a vibrant community effort to understand the early universe.”