June 12, 2000

Lab Astrophysicist Wins Tinsley Prize

LIVERMORE, Calif. — Charles Alcock of the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been awarded the American Astronomical Society’s Beatrice Tinsley Prize for "exceptionally creative and innovative" work.

Alcock was recognized for research into the nature of dark matter in the universe — matter invisible to astronomers, but thought to comprise most of the universe’s mass. Alcock’s international research team is searching for dark matter in our Milky Way galaxy by looking for occasional amplification of starlight from outside our galaxy caused by the gravitational effects of dark matter.

Alcock received the award June 7 at the society's annual meeting in Rochester, NY.

"This is immensely gratifying," said Alcock. "This project is an international collaboration, and it's a very talented team that has worked on it."

The Lab-led project is testing the hypothesis that a significant fraction of the dark matter in the halo of the Milky Way galaxy is made up of objects like brown dwarfs or planets, which have come to be known as Massive Compact Halo Objects, or MACHOs. The project began in 1996 and the data-collection phase ended Jan. 3 this year. "It's still a tremendous job to analyze the data," Alcock said.

Alcock's award citation read "The nature of dark matter is one of the key questions of our time. The search for dark matter in the Galactic Halo through gravitational micro-lensing by the MACHO project team was one of the most challenging astronomical projects ever undertaken."

The Tinsley Prize is named for Beatrice Tinsley, a New Zealand-born astronomer who did "innovative and original" work in cosmology during the 1960s. The prize recognizes an outstanding research contribution to astronomy or astrophysics, of an exceptionally creative or innovative character.

Alcock, head of Lawrence Livermore's Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics, won an R&D 100 Award in 1993, and in 1996 was recognized with the EO Lawrence Award for Physics. He was a University of California Regent's Lecturer in 1998-99.

Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory, with a mission to ensure national security and apply science and technology to the important issues of our time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy.