Cornell astrophysicist Edwin E. Salpeter shares Crafoord Prize from Royal Academy


Edwin E. Salpeter, the James Gilbert White Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences at Cornell University, has won the 1997 Crafoord Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on Wednesday (May 28).

Salpeter, Cornell professor of astronomy and of physics, shares the prize with Sir Fred Hoyle, who coined the term "Big Bang" for the beginning of the universe, for "their pioneering contributions involving the study of nuclear reactions in stars and stars' development," the Royal Academy said.

The annual prize is funded by the estate of Holger Crafoord, inventor of the artificial kidney, to mark accomplishments in scientific fields not covered by the Nobel Prizes in science, which the academy also selects. It will be presented Sept. 29 in Stockholm.

Salpeter, 72, was cited for his studies of chain reactions, including the "Salpeter process," which describes how older stars have energy to continue to shine. The process of helium changing to carbon, which Salpeter explained in the 1950s, describes the nuclear fusion that occurs in the interior of evolved stars. Three helium nuclei fuse to form carbon, which releases gamma rays as energy. This occurs in older stars when all the hydrogen in a stellar core has been used up and the temperature has risen to 100 million degrees.

"We are extremely happy that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has recognized Ed Salpeter's pioneering contributions in stellar structure," said Yervant Terzian, the James A. Weeks Professor of Physical Sciences and chair of Cornell's Astronomy Department. "This discovery was the cornerstone of our understanding of why there are chemical elements in the universe. This prize is richly deserved."

Salpeter also is known for the Salpeter function -- a theoretical expression for the numbers of stars of different masses among newly formed stars per unit volume of a galaxy.

Born in Vienna in 1924, Salpeter earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Sydney University, Australia, in 1944 and 1945, and a doctorate in theoretical physics from Birmingham University, England, in 1948. He came to Cornell in 1949 as a research associate and became a professor in 1957.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Salpeter has won many awards, including the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society (England) in 1973, the J.R. Oppenheimer Memorial Prize for his contributions to nuclear physics and relativistic astrophysics, and the Carnegie Institution Award for Research in Astrophysics in 1959.

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