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Prof. Krzysztof M. Górski_photo: private archive

 

Professor Krzysztof M. Górski from the University of Warsaw and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), received the 2020 FNP Prize in the field of mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences for the development and implementation of the methodology of analysis of the relic radiation maps, crucial for understanding the early stages of evolution of the universe.

Górski is a graduate of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. He continued his scientific and research career at the University of Warsaw where, at the Faculty of Physics, he obtained a doctorate (1987) and habilitation (1997). He was awarded the title of professor in 2003.

Obecnie pracuje w NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, w Pasadenie, ale również w Obserwatorium Astronomicznym Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego.

He is currently working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, in Pasadena, but also at the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Warsaw.

From the first years of his scientific career, Górski worked and interned in prestigious research centers related to astrophysics and space research. Among other places, these were the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the University of California in Berkeley, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the University of Chicago, Institut d’Astrophysique in Paris, the University of Tokyo, and the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics. In the following years, these were the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the Theoretical Astrophysics Center (TAC) in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany.

As one of the most important members of the Planck satellite team, Górski was awarded the prestigious Gruber Prize in Cosmology in 2018. For participation in the same mission, he won the NASA Honors Group Achievement Award in 2010, 2011, and 2014. Moreover, he was twice awarded an individual NASA Achievement Award: the Exceptional Achievement Medal in 2011 and the Exceptional Technology Achievement Medal in 2019.

His work includes over 300 peer-reviewed articles cited over 63 thousand times.

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Górski’s works include discoveries observational cosmology, the large-scale structure of the universe, and the formation of galaxies. In the last three decades, he has been involved in the dynamically developing field in cosmology: the study of cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB). The Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) appreciated Górski for the creation and wide application of an innovative methodology for the construction and analysis of cosmic microwave background radiation maps.

Cosmic microwave background radiation, called relic radiation, is the oldest type of radiation known to us in the universe, an authentic trace of the Big Bang. The map of its temperature in the astronomical sky – the “baby photograph of the Universe” – reveals to us the primordial heterogeneities of matter’s spatial distribution, from which the ubiquitous galaxies and the entire celestial zoo formed over time. Accurate measurements of background radiation are fundamental to the study of processes that happened long ago in the universe and allow us to decipher its history.

Górski developed a revolutionary method of numerical formatting and analysis of astronomical data from all-sky surveys: the HEALPix (Hierarchical Equal Area isoLatitude Pixelization of the Sphere). HEALPix is a comprehensive innovative tool for the construction, visualization, and analysis of maps of astronomical signals distributed over the entire celestial sphere, in particular CMB. The method is very often used by space missions and projects conducted from Earth. This algorithm was used in large-scale all-sky surveys such as WMAP, Planck, Fermi LAT, and Gaia. Górski has become an expert in the field of mathematical construction and sky maps analysis. The article describing this algorithm has already been cited 3.1 thousand times, and the software library based on it was downloaded by about 60 thousand users from around the world.

Górski participated in the study of CMB from the early 1990s. The first very famous NASA mission in which he participated was COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer). It was the first artificial satellite built specifically for the study of the early universe through observations of the microwave background radiation. Górski implemented a pioneering method for analyzing the data collected by this device. Analyzed in this way, COBE measurements allowed scholars to conduct cutting-edge research into the primordial inhomogeneity of the universe.

However, the largest scientific undertaking to study CMB was the Planck mission conducted by the European Space Agency, with the participation of NASA. The satellite was launched in 2009 and completed its mission in 2013, after building an unprecedentedly rich dataset of measuring microwave emission distribution across the sky in nine frequency bands. In the following years, these data and their scientific interpretation were made public as the results of the Planck mission. And these were dazzling.

Based on the measurements, Planck scientists have constructed the most precise maps of the CMB radiation reaching us from an era of around 380 thousand years after the Big Bang. As a result, scientists can conduct extremely detailed studies of 13.8 billion years of the history of the universe after the Big Bang.

One of the key members of the American Planck mission team was Górski, involved in all stages of the analysis of CMB data collected by the satellite. He led the group responsible for developing the algorithms used in the process of extracting the scientific results of the mission. Górski made a significant contribution to the process of eliminating the contamination of signals from the early universe by, among other things, the microwave emission of our own galaxy, which in the end allowed scholars to construct an unprecedentedly accurate picture of the initial era in the evolution of the universe. As part of the scientific program of the Planck mission, Górski headed, among other things, research on the global geometry and topology of the universe, precise statistics of cosmic background radiation anisotropy – that is the dependence on the direction of observation – and the analysis of anomalous aspects of its observed spatial distribution. Through permanent membership in the Planck Editorial Board, Górski contributed to the publication of over 160 peer-reviewed articles summarizing the cosmological and astrophysical results of the Planck mission.

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