U of A Professor Receives $500K Prize for Space Telescope Research

Regents Professor Marcia Rieke from the University of Arizona has been recognized for her significant contributions to the field of astronomy, particularly her work on the James Webb Space Telescope. The Gruber Foundation, a non-profit organization, has conferred upon her the prestigious 2024 Cosmology Prize, which comes with a $500,000 award. Notably, the foundation honors leading figures in cosmology, astronomy, astrophysics, or scientific philosophy who have made significant theoretical, analytical, conceptual, or observational discoveries about the cosmos.

Professor Rieke’s work primarily involves the Webb telescope’s Near InfraRed Camera (NIRCam), which is the telescope’s main set of infrared eyes. This instrument allows scientists to see further into space than ever before, providing compelling new insights into the earliest galaxies in the universe. Furthermore, Rieke leads a team known as JADES (JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey), which continues to conduct research using the NIRCam.

In the past, Rieke has also significantly contributed to the development of the NIRCam’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope’s Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer. Her substantial contributions to these projects have had a noteworthy impact on our understanding of the universe, according to the Gruber Foundation.

Rieke, who joined the University of Arizona faculty in 1975, has dedicated much of her career to infrared astronomy. In 2012, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She currently holds the Dr. Elizabeth Roemer Endowed Chair at Steward Observatory.

Rieke will officially receive her prize and a gold laureate pin on August 8 at the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Cape Town, South Africa. She expressed gratitude to her fellow Webb telescope team members for making this achievement possible and anticipates that the greatest discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope are yet to come.

As the principal investigator for the Webb’s main infrared camera, Rieke is guaranteed a substantial 900 hours of observation time using the space telescope. This privileged position is likely to see her at the forefront of many more important discoveries in the future.

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