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  • Nick Scoville
    Nick Scoville
    Credit: Bob Paz/Caltech
07/10/2017 10:04:16

Nick Scoville Honored for "Lifetime of Outstanding Research in Astronomy"

Nick Z. Scoville has been awarded the 2017 Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal—an honor bestowed by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) since 1898 for "a lifetime of outstanding research in astronomy."

Scoville, the Francis L. Moseley Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, founded the Cosmic Evolution Survey (COSMOS) in 2003 and led the project for its first decade. COSMOS, which involves about 200 astronomers from many countries, has imaged a 2-square-degree area on the celestial equator, now called the COSMOS field, using most of the world's major telescopes in every wavelength band from radio to X-ray. More than two million galaxies have been detected in this field, dating back to a time when the universe was only a billion years old (it is currently 13.8 billion years old). The goal of the survey is to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies, the evolution of active supermassive black holes, and the changing rate of star formation over time.

Scoville's personal interest is in mapping the large-scale structure of matter in the distant universe. His research has shown that the masses of galaxies and the ages of their stellar populations are influenced by the large-scale structures within which they reside. Recently, he has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to track the overall evolution of star-forming gas in galaxies going back to two-thirds of the age of the universe, using a sample of more than 700 galaxies in the COSMOS survey field. 

Scoville was also the director of Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory from 1986 to 1996. He has done extensive theoretical work on how stars lose mass, ultra-luminous infrared galaxies, and active supermassive black holes.

Nick Scoville was born in New York City and raised in Washington, D.C., where his father was a prominent physical scientist and arms control advocate and his mother was a painter and sculptor. Scoville picked up traits from both parents—his hobby is making abstract welded aluminum sculptures.

He attended Columbia University for both his undergraduate and graduate studies, completing his PhD in 1972. From 1975 to 1983, he was at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he became known for pioneering radio, submillimeter, and infrared observations of interstellar gas, including giant molecular clouds. He has served as a professor at Caltech since 1984.

More about the ASP is online at https://www.astrosociety.org.

Written by Whitney Clavin