Astrophysicist Brian Metzger has been named the 2020 Blavatnik National Awards Laureate in Physical Sciences & Engineering by the Blavatnik Family Foundation. The honor recognizes Metzger’s contributions to the discovery of the origins of gold and other heavy elements in the universe. The $250,000 prize is one of the largest for early-career scientists.
“Brian Metzger has made multiple and profound theoretical predictions that have proven to be true, something that is rare in the field of astronomy,” said Texas A&M University professor Nicholas Suntzeff, a member of the prize’s judging panel, in a statement. “One of those predictions — how gold was made — is an everyday question that children might ask, but to which a true scientific answer had remained elusive.”
Metzger, a guest researcher at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) and an associate professor of physics at Columbia University, predicted that elements toward the bottom of the periodic table form during the cataclysmic mergers of neutron stars. In 2017, observations of a neutron star merger by LIGO and telescopes around the world proved his theory correct.
“What an incredible honor to be recognized by this award, which uniquely elevates the work of young scientists,” Metzger said in the prize announcement. “It’s an incredible realization that the precious metals in my wedding band were likely forged in the vicinity of a black hole.”
Metzger previously received the 2019 New Horizons in Physics Prize and the 2019 Bruno Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society. Starting in January 2021, Metzger will be a research scientist at the CCA in addition to his role at Columbia University.