Press Release

AAS Gives UA Astronomers the 2003 Pierce Prize and the 2003 Weber Award

By SpaceRef Editor
January 15, 2003
Filed under , ,

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has awarded University of Arizona
Steward Observatory astronomers the 2003 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize and the
2003 Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation.

Xiaohui Fan, assistant professor of astronomy, has won the Newton Lacy
Pierce Prize for 2003 “for his systematic discovery of high redshift quasars
in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey,” according to his citation. “The quasars
are the best probe to date of the epoch of the formation of the first
objects in the universe; their discovery enabled identification of the end
of the epoch of re-ionization.”

Fan headed the Sloan Digital Sky Survey team that announced the discovery of
three of the four oldest known quasars at last week’s AAS annual meeting in
Seattle. The quasars are about 13 billion light years away and reach back to
a time when the universe was just 800 million years old.

The Pierce Prize is normally awarded annually for outstanding achievement,
over the past five years, in observational astronomical research based on
measurements of radiation from an astronomical object. It is given to an
astronomer who is younger than 36 years old in the year designated for the

During the past five years, Fan has been working with other members of the
Sloan Digital Sky Survey in observations of 30,000 quasars, or a third of
the total 100,000 quasars they intend to survey.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey will map in detail one-quarter of the entire
sky, determining the positions and absolute brightness of 100 million
celestial objects. It will also measure the distances to more than a million
galaxies and quasars.

Fan, who joined the UA faculty last year, earned his doctorate in
astrophysical sciences from Princeton University in 2000. He earned his 1995
master’s degree at Beijing Astronomical Observatory, Chinese Academy of
Sciences, China, and his bachelor of science degree from Nanjing University,
China, in 1992.

The AAS selected Frank J. Low as recipient of the 2003 Joseph Weber Award
for Astronomical Instrumentation. He received the AAS Helen B. Warner Prize
in 1968. Low is Regents Professor Emeritus in the UA Steward Observatory.

The Weber award, which was given for the first time last year, goes to an
individual without restriction to citizenship or country of residency “for
the design, invention or significant improvement of instrumentation leading
to advances in astronomy.”

Low is being cited for “extraordinary ingenuity in the development of
infrared instrumentation and observatories, including bolometers, the Lear
Jet and Kuiper Airborne observatories, and the IRAS and SIRTF space

Low has been described as the father of modern infrared astronomy because he
developed a low temperature bolometer that enabled many astronomers to
observe throughout the vast infrared spectrum. Using a NASA Learjet, Low
figured out how to fly his telescope high in the Earth’s stratosphere
without using a window. This led to NASA’s much larger airborne astronomy
facility, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, which further enabled infrared
astronomy at wavelengths unreachable from the ground.

Low proposed and was a primary organizer of the joint American-British-Dutch
Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS), the first infrared satellite, flown in
1983. The IRAS survey of the cosmos yielded new discoveries ranging from new
features of our own solar system to the most distant objects in the
universe. Low developed and produced very low noise super-cooled amplifiers
for use in space missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA’s
Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), to be launched this year, depends
on Low’s radically new ultra-low temperature cooling system designed to
extend the lifetime of the mission from only a few months to several years.

Low is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is also president
and founder of Infrared Laboratories, Inc. He earned his bachelor’s degree
in physics from Yale University in 1955, and his 1957 master’s degree and
1959 doctorate from Rice University. He joined the National Radio Astronomy
Observatory in 1962, the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory as research
professor in 1965, and became research professor at Steward Observatory in
1971. He became Regents’ Research Professor at the Steward Observatory in
1988, and Regents’ Professor Emeritus in 1996.

Established 1899, AAS is the major professional organization in North
America for astronomers, other scientists and individuals interested in

Contact Information

SpaceRef staff editor.