27 May 2020

Andrew Fabian Awarded 2020 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics

This post is adapted from a press release issued jointly by the Kavli Foundation and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters:

Andrew Fabian
Andrew Fabian. Photo by Sam Fabian.

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced on 27 May that the 2020 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, worth $1 million, is going to AAS member Andrew Fabian (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom) for his pioneering research and persistence in pursuing the mystery of how black holes influence their surrounding galaxies on both large and small scales. For decades, researchers have pondered the mechanics and physical processes of galaxies, and many have made discoveries that point to aspects of their inner workings, yet none has the unique vantage point of Fabian: to take a multiscale understanding and systematically know where to look to put the pieces of the puzzle together and create the bigger picture of this vast ecosystem.

In the current cosmological paradigm, the universe is a "living" system, in which the flows of gas into galaxies and black holes at their centers, and the subsequent release of energy back into the galaxies and their surroundings, all play vital roles. As the darkest objects in the universe, black holes are observed as their gravity attracts surrounding gas, dust, and stars, which swirl into them at high velocities, creating intense radiation, much of it X-rays. Observational X-ray astronomy opened up access to view these and other extremely hot and energetic components of the universe, providing stunning evidence for these processes at work, unveiling how the major constituents of the universe can profoundly influence its overall evolution.

Fabian employs X-ray astronomy to explore the physics of the universe. His body of work — from understanding large-scale galactic evolution to the physics of black holes at the centers of galaxies — enabled him to make connections between local conditions around supermassive black holes and the larger gas flows within and between galaxies. This research provided evidence that supermassive black holes at the heart of galaxies are the engines that drive the flow of hot gas out of the galaxy, redistributing energy through the universe and providing the building blocks for future galaxy formation.

“Fabian is one of the most prolific and influential astronomers of our time,” said Viggo Hansteen, chair of the Kavli Prize Committee in Astrophysics. “His research, breadth of knowledge, and insights into the universe provided the essential physical understanding of how disparate phenomena in this ecosystem are interconnected.”

The Kavli Prize Laureates are typically celebrated in Oslo, Norway, in a ceremony presided over by His Majesty King Harald followed by a banquet at the Oslo City Hall, the venue of the Nobel Peace Prize. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s award ceremony is postponed and will be held together with the 2022 award ceremony in September 2022.