The prestigious $1.2 million Shaw Prize 2020 goes to a British Astrophysicist

The Shaw Prize 2020


Earlier today the names of the recipients of the prestigious international Shaw Prize were announced

The 2020 Prize in Astronomy goes to the British astrophysicist Roger David Blandford “for his foundational contributions to theoretical Astrophysics, especially concerning the fundamental understanding of active galactic nuclei, the relativistic jets, the energy extraction mechanism from black holes and the acceleration of particles in shocks and their relevant radiation mechanisms”.

Our hearty congratulations to Professor Blandford! 


The Shaw Prize

The $ 1.2 million Shaw Prize is awarded for the distinguished achievements in three disciplines: Astronomy, Mathematical Sciences and Life Science and Medicine. The Prize was established in 2002 by Sir Run Run Shaw, the legendary Hong Kong media mogul. Since Shaw’s passing away in 2014, the Prize is managed by the Shaw Foundation. Among the recipients of the Shaw Prize in Astronomy are many Nobel Prize laureates, including Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss, Saul Perlmutter, Adam Riess, Brian Schmidt, James Peebles and Michael Mayor.

Sadly, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s award presentation ceremony will be postponed to 2021.


Roger David Blandford

Roger D Blandford is a Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Professor of Physics and of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at Stanford University. Before joining Stanford in 2003, Professor Blandford worked at Caltech and Cambridge Universities. Blandford is well known for this research on black holes and gravitational lensing. He studied processes associated with Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). AGN are supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. These Black Holes are actively feeding, i.e. accepting material. As a result they shine brighter than the rest of their host galaxies.

Here are just a few of Roger Blandford’s most recognized achievements 

  • Blandford-Znajek mechanism

This mechanism explains how energy can be extracted from a rotating black hole. It was first proposed and described by Blandford and his colleague in the seminal 1977 paper Electromagnetic extraction of energy from Kerr black holes. Astronomers think that this is the main mechanism that drives relativistic jets, that is powerful beams of particles that dash out of the black holes at nearly the speed of light.

  • Reverberation mapping

Roger Blandford is also a co-developer of the reverberation, or “echo” mapping technique, which is a way to probe the structure of the Active Galactic Nuclei. This method uses the fact that AGN are highly variable. The variations in the signal we see coming from the region around the supermassive black hole (accretion disc) are later echoed in the signal we observe from the neighboring region (broad line region). By looking at the delay in the “variability arrival” we can estimate the size of these regions. And, by extend, the size and mass of the black hole itself. If you want to learn more about this method, see the paper AGN Reverberation Mapping.

Prof. Blandford is an author and co-author of hundreds of scientific papers. His book “Modern Classical Physics”, written in collaboration with Kip Thorne and published in 2017, is an excellent reference textbook for physics students and researchers.

We would like to extend our congratulations to the recipients of the two other Shaw Prizes 2020, 

  • Alexander Beilinson and David Kazhdan, who will receive the Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences for their contribution to representation theory and other areas of Mathematics
  • Gero Miesenbock, Peter Hegemann and Georg Nagel, who will receive the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine for the development of Optogenics.

More about Astronomy awards

Girls only: the Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy

Nobel Prize in Astronomy. Part 1.

Nobel Prize in Astronomy. Part 2.

Questions? Comments? Let our star dome team know!