Cosmic messenger
shares star prize

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A CITY professor who helped shape understanding
of the origin of the universe has been awarded the prestigious Shaw Prize in astronomy.

John Andrew Peacock was born in Shaftesbury, Dorset, in March 1956.

He graduated with a first-class BA degree in natural sciences from Cambridge University in 1977 and spent the next three years completing his PhD there.

In 1981, he moved to Edinburgh as research fellow at the Royal Observatory and became research astronomer two years later.

He was promoted to head of research at the observatory in 1992 and has been professor of cosmology in Edinburgh University’s department of physics and astronomy since 1998.

He also served as postgraduate co-ordinator for the university’s Institute of Astronomy, 2000-7, and was head of the institute from 2007 until last year.

He shares the 2014 Shaw Prize for astronomy with professors Daniel Eisenstein of Harvard University and Shaun Cole of Durham University for their ground-breaking work which led to discoveries about the building blocks of the universe, without which there would be no life on Earth.

The scientists used super computers to study the large-scale structure of galaxies. Their research showed sound waves that originated a few seconds after the Big Bang could be used to measure distances in the universe and the rate at which it is expanding.

Prof Peacock said: “This work was made possible by many essential contributions from members of a big team. We all felt at the time that we were doing something revolutionary, and it’s wonderful to see this work recognised.”

Prof Peacock and his colleagues catalogued a total of 220,000 galaxies. The distribution of galaxies makes colossal patterns in space, hundreds of millions of light-years in extent. The form of this structure is set by the action of gravity over the entire history of the universe, and its detailed properties reveal much about the overall nature of the universe.

The Shaw Prize – worth $1 million (£597,000) – was established by the late Chinese entertainment impresario and philanthropist Run Run Shaw and has been dubbed the “Nobel of the East”. It is an international honour for individuals who have achieved distinguished and significant advances, made outstanding contributions in academic and scientific research or have achieved excellence.

Prof Martin Barstow, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, hailed the award to the scientists.

“It is a testament to their research leadership in the field and marks their significant contribution to ­astronomy in the UK and world-wide,” he said.

Prof Peacock is a fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.