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Research Prize awarded to black hole expert

The Lundbeck Foundation Young Scientist Prize is awarded to Darach Watson from the Niels Bohr Institute, who has developed a method to measure the mysterious dark energy. Now he's looking for gold in space.

The 39-year-old Watson has already made a number of important discoveries about the universe. And although it might sound like a reference to the achievements of a famous historical astronomer, the relatively unknown astrophysicist is currently working at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. Darach Watson, originally from Ireland has, since 2003, helped build the Institute's Dark Cosmology Centre” along with his remarkable contributions to astrophysics.

These achievements are the reason behind his being awarded this year's “Young Scientist Award”, a personal prize of 300,000 Danish kroner, which has been awarded every year since 2001 by the Lundbeck Foundation.

Measuring cosmological distances

In 2011, Watson made his most important discovery to date. He published an article about a new method to measure the distances to very remote celestial bodies.

The method means that changes can be detected in the mysterious dark energy that accelerates the expansion of our universe. The discovery is therefore expected to be of great importance for the understanding of the invisible dark energy that over the last fifteen years has come to be recognised as the main component of the universe.

Darach Watson is described as original and inventive in his approach to science. He combines very different techniques and ideas to create new insights.

“”Research is about being creative. And I love to be creative — not only in astronomy, but also when I'm cooking or building things in my spare time. But at the same time astrophysics requires a very logical approach. So I try to combine these two aspects and find the questions no one has asked before,”” says Watson.

From dust in distant galaxies to space prospector

That it is a very effective approach to cosmology is evident from the more than 6000 citations to his work by other astronomers.

But Watson's discovery also explores very different areas of astrophysics. Among other things, he has invented a method by which one can measure the amount and type of dust in distant galaxies billions of light-years away. He also helped discover a previously unknown type of stellar death, where a star disappears almost silently as it collapses directly to a black hole. He also participated in the first detection of a visible light afterglow from a neutron star merger, a discovery the journal Science named as one of 2005 's most important research breakthroughs. For the moment, Darach is working on yet another surprising idea. He's looking for gold in space.

“We are working on how gold and other heavy elements such as uranium and platinum may be created in other processes than previously thought. The prevailing view has been that they are formed in supernova explosions. But right now I am exploring whether it is more likely that gold is actually created in very different types of cosmic explosions,”” he explains.

For more information :

Darach Watson
Dark Cosmology Centre
Niels Bohr Institute
KU
Juliane Maries Vej 30
2100 Copenhagen

+45 35 32 59 94
+45 24 80 38 25

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