Press Release

Gunn honored by AAS and Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

By SpaceRef Editor
January 27, 2005
Filed under , ,

Within just two weeks, SDSS Project Scientist Dr. James E. Gunn of the Institute for Advanced Studies and Princeton University, both in Princeton, NJ received two of the highest awards in astronomy and science.

On January 27, Gunn was awarded the 2005 Crafoord Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Two weeks before, Gunn was named the recipient of the 2005 Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, the highest honor of the American Astronomical Society. It is awarded for a lifetime of eminence in astronomical research.

The Crafoord Prize (awarded jointly to Gunn, James Peebles of Princeton and Martin Rees of Cambridge University, was “for contributions towards understanding the large-scale structure of the Universe.”

Gunn’s citation from the Royal Swedish Academy reads: “James Gunn first made theoretical contributions to the field of galaxy formation, the gaseous medium between galaxies and the presence of dark matter in galaxies. Later, he has played a central role in several observational projects, like the Hubble telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which aims to chart the properties of one million galaxies.”

Announced earlier in January, the American Astronomical Society cited Gunn: “For contributions to observational, instrumental, and theoretical astrophysics that have informed our understanding of the universe and a large fraction of its contents, including Gunn-Peterson absorption in quasar spectra, weak gravitational lensing, galactic and stellar dynamics, pulsars and quasars, and the objects of study of numerous spectrographs, cameras, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.”

“In the broadest terms, there are three main areas of astronomy research: theory, observation, and instrumentation. Most researchers specialize in one of these areas, and a few have made substantial contributions to two. Gunn has had an outstanding scientific impact in all three,” explained Scott Tremaine, chair of the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University.

Tremaine explained that Gunn started his career as a theoretical astronomer, doing groundbreaking work in gravitational lensing as a cosmological probe, the formation and evolution of galaxies and the large-scale structure of the Universe, and the physical nature of pulsars.

Gunn was a leader in the 1970’s and 1980’s in observational studies of distant galaxies, galaxy clusters, and quasars. He and his collaborators’ papers set the standard for studies of globular-cluster dynamics for a decade or more.

He played a central role as Deputy Principal Investigator in the design and construction of the Wide Field/Planetary Camera on the Hubble Space Telescope. His groundbreaking use of CCD detectors was, at the time, a bold innovation. He also designed a number of major instruments for the Palomar 5-meter telescope and others. For his groundbreaking work, the American Astronomical Society ( bestowed on Gunn the first Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation in 2002.

In 1985, Gunn had the original concept for the SDSS, a comprehensive mapping and cataloging of stars, galaxies and quasars on a scale never before attempted.

“This concept was both a scientific vision for what was important (and what could be practically addressed), and a detailed technical plan for how to get there,” explained Richard Kron, SDSS Director and professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago.

“More than anyone else, he was involved in all aspects of the early definition and design phase, and later in its operations. Throughout he has worked to enhance the quality of the data, and the long-term legacy and scientific productivity of the SDSS will be a testament to his work in this respect. He has served as Project Scientist from the beginning, providing exceptional leadership in defining the course of the survey, and inspiring many who have worked on the project.”

The many ground breaking discoveries that the SDSS has made include the most distant quasars known, evidence that our Milky Way galaxy was formed by cannibalism of neighboring galaxies, the coolest stars known, and the most precise measurement of the clustering of galaxies.


Simply put, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is the most ambitious astronomical survey project ever undertaken. The survey will map in detail one-quarter of the entire sky, determining the positions and absolute brightnesses of more than 100 million celestial objects. It will also measure the distances to more than a million galaxies and quasars. Apache Point Observatory, site of the SDSS telescopes, is operated by the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC).

Funding for the creation and distribution of the SDSS Archive has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Participating Institutions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Japanese Monbukagakusho, and the Max Planck Society.

The SDSS is managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC) for the Participating Institutions. The Participating Institutions are The University of Chicago, Fermilab, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Japan Participation Group, The Johns Hopkins University, the Korean Scientist Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics (MPA), New Mexico State University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Portsmouth, Princeton University, the United States Naval Observatory, and the University of Washington.


James E. Gunn, Princeton University, (609) 734-8191

Richard Kron, Project Director, The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (773) 702-3335,

Steven Schultz, Princeton University Communications and Publications (609) 258-5729,

Gary S. Ruderman, Public information Officer, Sloan Digital Sky Survey, (312) 320-4794,

SpaceRef staff editor.