Today, Brian Metzger, who earned BS degrees from Iowa in physics, astronomy, and math in 2003, and is now on the faculty at Columbia University in the City of New York received the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists as their 2020 Laureate in Physical Sciences & Engineering for settling a long-standing question about the origin of gold and other heavy elements in the universe. The Blavatnik Award is the largest cash prize for early-career scientists ($250K).
Metzger has settled a long-standing question about the origin of gold and other heavy elements in the universe. He predicted that gold, along with all the stable elements on the lower part of the periodic table, was created in a collision of two merging neutron stars called a “kilonova.” In 2017, the LIGO gravitational wave observatory recorded the first observed kilonova explosion, and measurements taken after this discovery confirmed Metzger’s predictions. Indeed, the heaviest elements present in the universe, like gold, were created by such cataclysmic events. Metzger’s work has ushered in an exciting new era in astronomy that will revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos. “This year, the Physical Sciences & Engineering Jury chose a superstar in the field of astrophysics,” said Nicholas B. Suntzeff, PhD, Distinguished Professor of the Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy at Texas A&M University, and member of the 2020 Blavatnik National Awards Physical Sciences & Engineering Jury. “Brian Metzger has made multiple and profound theoretical predictions that have proven to be true, something that is rare in the field of astronomy. 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.”
Illustration of the merger of two neutron stars to create a kilonova. Credit: NASA/CXC/Trinity University/D. Pooley et al. Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss.