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Nick Kaiser Elected Fellow of the British Royal Society

picture of Nick Kaiser
Nick Kaiser. Photo by K. Teramura.

The British Royal Society elected IfA astronomer Nicholas Kaiser as a fellow of the society on May 16.  Kaiser was one of the 44 new fellows selected this year for their contributions to science, engineering, and technology. The national scientific academy of the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the Royal Society is dedicated to promoting excellence in science. A fellowship of the Royal Society is one of the most prestigious honors a British scientist can achieve.

The society chose Kaiser because he "is distinguished for initiating and developing several fields of research in large scale structure and cosmology. In each, he has provided highly original theoretical insight and applied these to obtain important observational results." Kaiser has also "played a central role in turning weak gravitational lensing into a major observational industry and one of the most promising new techniques in cosmology for the next decade."

Gravitational lensing is a technique astronomers use to study dark matter, which we cannot see because it does not give off or reflect light, but whose existence is deduced from its gravitational effect on regular matter, such as stars and galaxies. Light is slightly bent when it passes through a gravitational field, which acts as a magnifying lens, irrespective of whether the gravitational field is caused by dark matter or regular matter.

Kaiser now heads the Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System) project, which is developing an observatory whose immediate goal is to discover asteroids and comets that might collide with Earth, but whose huge volume of images will also be used to study other aspects of the solar system, as well as stars, galaxies, and cosmology.

Raised in Sheffield, England, Kaiser earned a BSc in physics at Leeds University in 1978 and a PhD in astronomy at Cambridge University in 1982. He won the Helen Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society in 1989, the Herzberg Medal of the Canadian Association of Physicists in 1993, and the Rutherford Medal of the Royal Society of Canada in 1997. He joined the faculty of the University of Hawaii in 1997.

The British Royal Society is one of the oldest scientific societies in the world, dating from 1660. Early presidents of the society include Sir Christopher Wren, Samuel Pepys, and Sir Isaac Newton.

IfA astronomer Lennox Cowie became a fellow of the Royal Society in 2004.