Who got that cash?

November 16, 2007

A cosmologist investigating the accelerating expansion of the universe is one of the high-flying young researchers to win a prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize.

Will Percival, senior research fellow at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at Portsmouth University, is one of 26 winners of the £70,000 award.

Endowed over two years, the money will allow Dr Percival to hire a research assistant to help analyse telescope data produced for the Dark Energy Survey, run by a group of institutions around the world.

Dr Percival won the award in recognition of his work into Baryon wiggles, sound waves emitted shortly after the Big Bang that were able to travel while the Universe was still hot. The waves could travel only a finite distance before the Universe cooled, leading to a particular distribution of the "seeds" that were to grow to become galaxies.

Calculations simulating this process can be compared to the current positions of galaxies, shedding light on the rate of expansion of the Universe. Dark energy, a mysterious theoretical force in the Universe, is thought to be linked to the growing rate of expansion observed. "The big challenge is to test the nature of this accelerated growth by comparing galaxy positions at a series of times in the evolution of the Universe," Dr Percival said.

Dr Percival first got hooked on cosmology after a degree in mathematics at Nottingham University and a spell in industry working for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. He decided to sign up for a doctorate at Oxford University, graduating in 1999, and then spent six years as a postdoctoral fellow at Edinburgh University before moving to Portsmouth.

"A lot of people have their heart set on astronomy, but I came into it by an unusual route because I had my heart set on mathematics and the purity of numbers and I wanted to apply it to understanding more about the Universe."

Philip Leverhulme Prizes are normally given to outstanding scholars under the age of 36 who have made internationally recognised contributions to their field and have promising futures.

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