Shapiro wins 2017 Bethe Prize

Siv Schwink

Illinois Professor of Physics and of Astronomy Stuart Shapiro
Illinois Professor of Physics and of Astronomy Stuart Shapiro
University of Illinois Professor of Physics and Astronomy Stuart Shapiro has been selected for the 2017 Hans A. Bethe Prize of the American Physical Society (APS). The Bethe Prize is conferred annually to a scholar who has made outstanding contributions to theory, experiment, or observation in astrophysics, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, or closely related fields.

The citation reads, “For seminal and sustained contributions to understanding physical processes in compact object astrophysics, and advancing numerical relativity.”

Working at the intersection of theoretical astrophysics and numerical relativity, Shapiro has made significant contributions to our theoretical understanding of several long-standing, fundamental problems in astrophysics and general relativity. His broad research interests include the physics of black holes and neutron stars, gravitational collapse, the generation of gravitational waves, relativistic hydrodynamics and magnetohydrodynamics, and the dynamics of large N-body dynamical systems. Using simulations and visualizations generated on supercomputers, Shapiro’s group has shed light on accretion onto compact objects, binary black hole and neutron star inspiral and coalescence, the formation of black holes,  and neutrino and dark matter astrophysics.

Shapiro is perhaps most noted for his ground-breaking simulations on the emitted radiation spectrum from gas accreting onto black holes and neutron stars; the disruption and consumption of stars in star clusters containing a central supermassive black hole; the formation of a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy or quasar from the collapse of a relativistic collisionless gas or supermassive star;  and gravitational waves and electromagnetic signals from merging compact binaries.

Long interested in gravitational wave generation, Shapiro and his group provided some of the foundational theoretical work that contributed to the eventual detection and interpretation of gravitational waves by LIGO.

Shapiro is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the Institute of Physics in the U.K. He is a recipient of numerous honors, including a first prize in the IBM Supercomputing Competition (1991), the Forefronts of Large-Scale Computation Award (1990), the IBM Supercomputing Competition Award (1990), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1989-90), an Association of American Publishers Award (1984), and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (1979).

Shapiro received his bachelor’s degrees in astronomy from Harvard in 1969 and his master’s and doctoral degrees in astrophysical sciences from Princeton University in 1971 and 1973 respectively. He served on the astronomy and physics faculty at Cornell University from 1973 to1995, before joining the faculty in Physics and Astronomy at Illinois as a full professor in 1996.

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  • Outreach

The most intriguing and relevant science happens at the highest levels of scientific pursuit-at major research universities and laboratories, far above and beyond typical high-school science curriculum. But this summer, 12 rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors-eight from Centennial and four from Central High Schools, both in Champaign-had the rare opportunity to partake in cutting-edge scientific research at a leading research institution.

The six-week summer-research Young Scholars Program (YSP) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was initiated by members of the Nuclear Physics Laboratory (NPL) group, who soon joined forces with other faculty members in the Department of Physics and with faculty members of the POETS Engineering Research Center.

Imagine planting a single seed and, with great precision, being able to predict the exact height of the tree that grows from it. Now imagine traveling to the future and snapping photographic proof that you were right.

If you think of the seed as the early universe, and the tree as the universe the way it looks now, you have an idea of what the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration has just done. In a presentation today at the American Physical Society Division of Particles and Fields meeting at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, DES scientists will unveil the most accurate measurement ever made of the present large-scale structure of the universe.

These measurements of the amount and “clumpiness” (or distribution) of dark matter in the present-day cosmos were made with a precision that, for the first time, rivals that of inferences from the early universe by the European Space Agency’s orbiting Planck observatory. The new DES result (the tree, in the above metaphor) is close to “forecasts” made from the Planck measurements of the distant past (the seed), allowing scientists to understand more about the ways the universe has evolved over 14 billion years.

“This result is beyond exciting,” said Scott Dodelson of Fermilab, one of the lead scientists on this result. “For the first time, we’re able to see the current structure of the universe with the same clarity that we can see its infancy, and we can follow the threads from one to the other, confirming many predictions along the way.”

It took two years on a supercomputer to simulate 1.2 microseconds in the life of the HIV capsid, a protein cage that shuttles the HIV virus to the nucleus of a human cell. The 64-million-atom simulation offers new insights into how the virus senses its environment and completes its infective cycle.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Communications.