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Pioneering Astrophysicist Rashid Sunyaev to Speak at Kyoto Prize Symposium March 21

Free event at UC San Diego is open to public; local high school students are invited to attend


  • Jade Griffin

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  • Jade Griffin

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Rashid Sunyaev

Rashid Sunyaev, Ph.D., one of the world’s most distinguished astrophysicists, will speak at the University of California, San Diego, March 21 at 3:30 p.m., as part of the annual Kyoto Prize Symposium. To register for the free talk, which is open to the public, please visit: www.kyotoprize-us.org.

Sunyaev is the latest recipient of the esteemed Kyoto Prize—Japan’s highest private award for global achievement—in “Basic Sciences,” in recognition of his contributions to the understanding of the early universe and the properties of black holes. As part of the Kyoto Prize Symposium, Sunyaev will visit UC San Diego to share his work with the campus, as well as community members and high school students from throughout San Diego County.

A citizen of both Russia and Germany, Sunyaev currently serves as director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany and as chief scientist at the Space Research Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences. He is also the Maureen and John Hendricks Visiting Professor in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Sunyaev is world renowned for developing the theory that fluctuations in cosmic microwave background radiation can be used as a means for exploring the expanding universe. Together with Yakov Zel’dovich, Ph.D., Sunyaev predicted the phenomenon known as the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect, which describes how the ionized gas in giant clusters of galaxies scatters the cosmic microwave background radiation. The “SZ-effect” provided a new means of measuring absolute distance of galactic clusters. Thanks to Sunyaev’s discoveries, astrophysicists are now able to determine the size, age and geometry of the universe to an accuracy of a few percent.

In addition, Sunyaev has contributed significantly to the field of high-energy astronomy. In 1973, Sunyaev formulated the Shakura-Sunyaev model with Nicolai Shakura, Ph.D., which describes the accretion of matter onto a black hole. Providing a starting point for structural research on celestial objects, this work is among the most often-cited original research in the field of astronomy.

The presentation is one in the three-part Kyoto Prize Symposium hosted jointly by UC San Diego, the University of San Diego and San Diego State University. On behalf of UC San Diego, Mark Thiemens, dean of the university’s Division of Physical Sciences, will welcome Sunyaev and an audience including faculty, staff, community members and an estimated 300 students from local high schools.

UC San Diego will facilitate bringing the high school students—many from underserved areas of the county—to campus, helping introduce a diverse student body to the university and the possibility of a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

 “These lectures provide an opportunity for students to learn firsthand from the most eminent scientists in the world how discoveries are made and what inspires researchers to keep asking new questions,” said Thiemens. “Their stories have many more interesting bumps and turns than are typically presented in textbooks. The lectures also illustrate the many unsolved questions that remain for young people from diverse backgrounds who might want to become scientists themselves.”

The presentation will be followed by a question and answer session, and an opportunity for the students and other attendees to meet the accomplished astrophysicist.

In addition to Sunyaev, this year’s Kyoto Prize laureates include:

  • In “Advanced Technology,” John Cahn, Ph.D., a materials scientist who established the landmark theory of spinodal decomposition, supporting the development of new alloy materials. He will speak at San Diego State University on March 21 at 10 a.m.
  • In “Arts and Philosophy,” Tamasaburo Bando V, an international theater performer and tate oyama, or leading Kabuki actor specializing in female roles. He will perform at the University of San Diego on March 22 at 10:30 a.m.

The Kyoto Prize was established by the Inamori Foundation in 1985 with the goal of honoring significant contributions to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of humankind. The president of the nonprofit organization is Kazuo Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus (retired) of Kyocera and KDDI Corporation.

The March 21 talk with Sunyaev will take place in UC San Diego’s Price Center West Ballroom at 3:30-5 p.m. Light refreshments will follow the talk. For information and to register for the free symposium, please visit www.kyotoprize-us.org.

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