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Ohio State Scientist Receives $100,000 New Horizons in Physics Prize

Christopher Hirata was one of three people given the Breakthrough Prize’s New Horizons in Physics award. Credit: Megan Russell | Senior Lantern reporter

An Ohio State astrophysicist was the first in university history to receive a distinguished national award that recognized his work in physics research, specifically on the galaxy’s formation.

Christopher Hirata — a professor of physics and astronomy — was one of three people given the Breakthrough Prize’s New Horizons in Physics award, which gives $100,000 to junior researchers across the country for works they produce in physics, mathematics and life science.

“I think Chris is very worthy of this prize,” said Brian Winer, chair of the Ohio State’s physics department. “He has had a tremendous impact in his field. The prize, itself, is well-deserved.”

Hirata was awarded the prize for “fundamental contributions to understanding the physics of early galaxy formation and to sharpening and applying the most powerful tools of precision cosmology,” according to the Breakthrough Prize’s website.

Hirata — who also has a role at Ohio State’s Center of Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics — said his primary focus has been on the large-scale structure of the universe, such as galaxy formations and the distribution of matter.

His work consists of theorizing and modeling the early universe by using physics to learn about how it has evolved. Hirata uses telescopes and cameras to survey the sky to analyze the current structure of the universe.

He received the award at the “Oscars of Science,” hosted by Morgan Freeman. Some of the presenters included  Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Mayim Bialik and Lily Collins.

“It was not like anything I’ve been to before,” Hirata said. “Most of the things I go to are government or university events. This was — it was a big production, obviously lots of famous people, the whole red-carpet thing.”

While his work in the physics field might come naturally, the spotlight did not.

“I survived the red carpet,” Hirata joked, recounting the event.

Hirata is now collaborating with other institutions, including NASA on its future space mission set for the 2020s, called the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

“What it’s going to be is a space telescope the size of the Hubble, yielding similar image clarity, but we’re going to put a 300 megapixel infrared camera on it,” Hirata said, adding the Hubble camera has a 1 megapixel infrared camera. “This is a huge leap forward in our ability to observe large portions of the sky and find things we weren’t looking for.”

In addition to his research and role as a professor at Ohio State, Hirata said he plans to continue contributing to NASA’s telescope work in the coming years.

“Space missions take a long time to put together,” Hirata said. “There’s an idea, there are concept studies, there’s technology development, then there’s finally building the thing.”

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