Roger Blandford Receives Humboldt Research Award

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May 24, 2011

Astrophysicist Roger Blandford, director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at SLAC and Stanford, has received a prestigious Humboldt Research Award. 

Valued at 60,000 Euros (about USD 85,000), the award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation supports cooperative research by scientists visiting specialist colleagues at German research institutions.

“I'm looking forward to spending some time this summer working on high-energy X-ray and gamma ray astronomy with colleagues at three Max Planck Institutes in Garching, near Munich,” Blandford said.  The institutes are the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and the European Southern Observatory.  He also expects to use the prize money to return to Germany for research trips in succeeding years.

Blandford has made significant theoretical contributions in diverse areas of astrophysics and cosmology. He has authored fundamental papers on topics such as gravitational lenses, the origin of cosmic rays, black holes and gravitational radiation.  A hallmark of his career has been his strong emphasis on relating his theories to the interpretation of observational data and his ability to devise simple models of sometimes highly complex phenomena. He has been at SLAC since 2003.

Blandford has also been active in the astrophysics community, most recently as chair of ASTRO 2010, the once-a-decade survey sponsored by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science that identifies the highest-priority astronomy and astrophysics research activities for the next 10 years.

Blandford currently holds three positions: Pehong and Adele Chen Director, KIPAC; Professor of Physics at Stanford and SLAC, and Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation was originally created 18 months after the death of its namesake, nature researcher and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). After two economic interruptions, the current foundation was established by the Federal Republic of Germany in late 1953. 

Each year the foundation grants up to 100 Humboldt Research Awards.  Over the years, more than 24,000 scientists from more than 130 countries have received Humboldt Research Awards, Fellowships and other honors to spend time doing research in Germany.

Humboldt himself was one of the most famous scientists of his time.  Between 1799 and 1804, he travelled throughout Latin America, exploring and describing it for the first time in a manner generally considered to have been a modern scientific point of view. It took him 21 years to publish his account of the journey in an enormous set of volumes.  The masterpiece of Humboldt’s advanced years – the five-volume "Cosmos. Draft of a Physical Description of the World," which was published from 1845 to 1862 (posthumously) – was unique in its comprehensive approach.  His work was so innovative and inspiring that, according to the Foundation’s website, researchers in the natural science disciplines of physical geography, climatology, ecology and oceanography all consider Humboldt to be their founder. Humboldt was also known for sponsoring other young scholars, which became the purpose of the foundations that bore his name.

Humboldt’s legacy is extensive.  In addition to the foundation, many New World plants, animals, geographic features, towns and schools are named after him, including Humboldt County, California, and the Humboldt ocean current west of South America.