Fri, Apr 11, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Leading physicist awarded US prize

LIFELONG INTEREST Michele Ma Chung-Pei showed an early thirst for achievement and has now won a prestigious American physics award


The American Physical Society conferred the prestigious Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award to Taiwan-born and American-raised physicist Michele Ma Chung-pei (馬中珮) recently in recognition of her important contributions to theoretical astrophysics.

Ma, who recently joined the astronomy faculty at the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley), was chosen as the only recipient of the 2003 Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award for her "important contributions to theoretical astrophysics, particularly in the areas of relativistic evolution of density perturbations, testing of structure formation models with massive neutrinos and the clustering and dynamics of dark matter halos around galaxies," according to the American Physical Society.

The prestigious Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award was established through sponsorship by the General Electric (GE) Foundation in 1985 in memory of the physicist of the same name who shared the 1963 Nobel Prize in physics with two other scientists for her research on the shell model of the atomic nucleus.

Goeppert-Mayer was the second woman physicist in the world to receive the Nobel Prize in physics, behind Madame Pierre Curie, who became a Nobel laureate in 1903.

The American Physical Society and the GE Fund jointly facilitate the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award to recognize and enhance outstanding achievements by a woman physicist in the early years of her career and to provide opportunities for her to present these achievements to others through public lectures in the spirit of Maria Goeppert-Mayer.

The award is to be given to a woman no later than 10 years after she has been granted her doctorate in order to have an effect upon the early stages of her career, for scientific achievements that demonstrate her potential as an outstanding physicist.

The Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award, presented annually, consists of US$2,500 plus a US$4,000 travel allowance to provide opportunities for the recipient to give lectures in her field of physics at four institutions and at the meeting of the American Physical Society at which the award is bestowed and a certificate citing the contribution made by the recipient.

Ma, 37, who became aware of her life's calling at the age of 12, went to the US when she was 17 to study physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She received both her undergraduate degree and doctorate in physics from MIT in 1987 and 1993, respectively.

She was a prize fellow at the California Institute of Technology and an assistant and associate professor of astronomical physics at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the UC Berkeley's astronomy faculty.

Ma's primary research interests are dark matter, the cosmic microwave background, and the large-scale structure of the universe.

Among the major honors Ma has received are the Annie Cannon Award in Astronomy in 1997, the Sherman Fairchild Fellowship, Caltech in 1993 and Phi Beta Kappa in 1987.

While studying particle physics and theoretical cosmology with Alan Guth and Edmund Bertschinger at MIT, Ma was enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston for violin-performance classes to hone her violin playing skills, which she began studying in her formative years in Taiwan.

A violin prodigy, she won first prize in the Taiwan National Violin Competition in 1983.

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