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Lauren D. Robinson-Brown or Steven Schultz, 609-258-3601

Nov. 13, 2000

Princeton Astrophysicist Wins National Medal of Science

Provost Ostriker cited for bold insights that have enhanced understanding of the universe

Princeton, N.J. -- Princeton University Provost and Professor Jeremiah P. Ostriker today was named winner of a National Medal of Science award in recognition of his contributions to the field of astrophysics, including insights into the dynamics of galaxies and star clusters and the existence of large quantities of dark matter.

The Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy is one of 12 medal recipients chosen this year for the nation's highest scientific honor. Selected by President Clinton and administered by the National Science Foundation, the awards are scheduled to be presented on Dec. 1. Princeton has 13 previous science award winners.

Ostriker's scientific research focuses on theoretical astrophysics and has covered a wide variety of topics, proving essential to astronomers. The National Science Foundation cited Ostriker "for his bold astrophysical insights which have revolutionized concepts of the nature of pulsars, the ‘ecosystem' of stars and gas in our galaxy, the sizes and masses of galaxies, the nature and distribution of dark matter and ordinary matter in the Universe, and the formation of galaxies and other cosmological structures."

"I know of no one more deserving of the National Medal of Science than Jerry Ostriker," said Harold T. Shapiro, president of Princeton University. "For many years his powerful and original ideas have reshaped and pushed back the frontiers of knowledge in the field of astrophysics. He has made his extraordinary and extensive scientific contributions while also achieving well deserved recognition as an exceptional teacher, a leader in his field and, for the past six years, as Princeton's provost."

Ostriker was appointed as provost in 1995. Previously, he served as chair of astrophysical sciences and director of the University Observatory since 1979. Ostriker joined the Princeton faculty in 1965 and has held the Young Professorship since 1982. Born in New York City in 1937, Ostriker received his bachelor's degree in physics and chemistry from Harvard University in 1959 and his doctorate in astrophysics from the University of Chicago in 1964. He has won fellowships from the National Science Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, California Institute of Technology, Smithsonian Institution and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Ostriker also has received numerous awards and prizes including the Karl Schwarzschild Medal of Astronomische Gesellschaft in 1999, the Vainu Bappu Memorial Award of the Indian National Science Academy in 1993 and the Henry Norris Russell award of the American Astronomical Society in 1980.

"I count myself fortunate to have been born into an era when extraordinary advances in astrophysics and cosmology were possible, and doubly fortunate to live in a nation that values intellectual opportunities enough to have provided the resources that enabled the great discoveries of the last half century," Ostriker said.

"It is especially remarkable that he has continued to make important new scientific discoveries even while undertaking the demanding and time-consuming responsibilities of provost," Shapiro said. "Still, as Jerry would be the first to insist, he is first and foremost a scientist, which is why it is especially fitting that the nation should recognize his scientific distinction by awarding him this National Medal of Science."

The author of numerous published works, Ostriker is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Astronomical Society, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Astronomical Society and the International Astronomical Union. For decades, he has been able to look beyond conventional wisdom and provoke new ideas. Astrophysics Chair Scott Tremaine called Ostriker "one of the most influential researchers in one of the most intellectually exciting and publicly visible areas of modern science" and said his research is "marked by an unparalleled combination of boldness, insight, imagination, eloquence and breadth."

"In the 35 years since Jerry arrived at Princeton, his insights have dramatically advanced our understanding in almost every arena of astrophysics, especially galactic structure and galaxy formation, cosmology and star formation. He has combined a prodigious research output with an unusual dedication to the scientific community, both here in Princeton and throughout the nation," Tremaine said. "I'm delighted that Ostriker's distinguished contributions to astrophysics have been recognized by the award of the President's National Medal of Science. He follows in the footsteps of two outstanding leaders of our department, Lyman Spitzer and Martin Schwarzschild, who received the award in 1979 and 1997," respectively.

Other previous Princeton winners of the science medal include: Solomon Lefschetz, 1964; John W. Milnor, 1966; William Feller, 1969 - posthumous; John A. Wheeler, 1970; Robert Dicke, 1970; John W. Tukey, 1973; Hassler Whitney, 1976; Donald C. Spencer, 1989; George A. Miller, 1991; and Val Fitch and Martin Kruskal, 1993. (The complete list is posted at

Professor John N. Bahcall, a visiting lecturer at Princeton and a 1998 science medal laureate, said Ostriker's energy and acumen have had a stimulating effect on his peers. "I am thrilled by the selection of Jerry Ostriker for the National Medal of Science. He has been a role model for all scientists in Princeton because of his pioneering contributions to almost every area of astronomical research and his legendary quickness in appreciating and capitalizing on the most recent observational discoveries," he said. "I have never heard a secretary, an undergraduate student or a colleague refer to Professor Ostriker in any other way than 'Jerry,' which is a tribute to his talent for establishing productive interactions with everyone."

In the early 1970s, Ostriker and Princeton cosmologist James Peebles published papers proposing that the luminous material of stars and galaxies accounts for only a small fraction of matter in the universe. Their calculations showed that the vast majority of matter, about 90 percent, must be a kind of invisible "dark matter" that is critical for giving galaxies and the universe their structure. This prediction has since been supported by experimental evidence and is a central tenet of cosmology today.

More than 25 years later, Ostriker's fundamental contributions continue. In 1999, he published a paper with colleague Renyue Cen answering basic questions about how the normal, visible matter is distributed in the universe. Starting with several sets of data about how the universe was composed in its earliest moments, Cen and Ostriker used supercomputers to simulate its evolution to its present structure. These computational models predicted the existence of an intricate web of gas filaments, where hydrogen is concentrated along vast chain-like structures, and clusters of galaxies form where the filaments intersect.

"Over a span of nearly 40 years, Jerry Ostriker has produced a body of astrophysical work that has few, if any, equals," said Joseph H. Taylor, Princeton's dean of the faculty and a 1993 Nobel laureate in physics. "He also co-authored one of the first, and most enduring, quantitative descriptions of the physical nature of pulsars and their spatial distribution throughout our galaxy. He has been instrumental in developing and applying powerful computational techniques for attacking longstanding problems of cosmic proportions."

The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959. Nominations are reviewed and recommendations made to the U.S. president by a 12-member, presidential-appointed committee. For more information, contact Bill Noxon, National Science Foundation, 703-292-8070 or visit

NOTE: A one-page summary of Ostriker's scientific achievements is attached as well as a one-page CV. A complete, 16-page bibliography of his works may be requested by calling the Office of Communications at 609-258-3601. A photo of Ostriker is available and may be downloaded from the following Web site:

Jeremiah P. Ostriker

Summary of Achievements in Astrophysics

November, 2000

Jeremiah P. Ostriker has been one of this country's, and the world's, most influential researchers in one of the most intellectually exciting and publicly visible areas of modern science. His research is marked by an unparalleled combination of boldness, insight, imagination, eloquence and breadth.

Before the early 1970's most astronomers shared an unstated assumption that almost all of the mass in galaxies resided in visible stars. Ostriker was probably the most important single figure in convincing the astronomical community that this natural and seductive assumption is wrong, by advocating a radical new model for galaxies in which the system of visible stars is only a minor component at the center of a much larger halo of dark matter of unknown composition. This thirty-fold expansion of the scale and mass of galaxies was the grandest revision in our understanding of galaxies since Shapley's work at Harvard in the early 1900's, and, after considerable initial skepticism, has now largely been confirmed by observations. Ostriker's work thus marks a watershed in our understanding of galactic structure, galaxy formation and cosmology.

In a different arena, Ostriker has changed the way we think about the gaseous interstellar medium, the birthplace of stars. The complex self-regulating interactions that we see around us between living organisms and the local environment are echoed in the interactions between stars and the interstellar medium. By analyzing the interstellar medium as a self-regulating system, Ostriker and his coworkers showed how the energy inputs from stellar ionizing radiation and powerful supernova explosions sculpt interstellar matter into the complex multiphase medium we see around us in the Galaxy, which in turn determines the rates of formation of new stars. Ostriker's work has clarified the dynamics and evolution of supernova remnants, the role of cloud evaporation in the interstellar medium, and the processes by which supernova shock waves accelerate cosmic rays. His conclusions have been extended to the intergalactic medium, in particular to the study of intergalactic gas clouds and their role in the formation of galaxies.

Ostriker has pioneered the development of sophisticated numerical simulations of the evolution of the early universe and the formation of structure in cosmology, including galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the intergalactic medium. He also has played a central role in synthesizing cosmological theories and observations; his combined grasp of theoretical cosmology and the enormously diverse collection of relevant observations is extraordinary. The Ostriker and Steinhardt concordance model (a flat universe with a cosmological constant) is now the standard model of cosmology, having received strong recent support from observations of distant supernovae and fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation.

In addition to these accomplishments, Ostriker has made major contributions to an exceptionally broad range of other topics: the structure and oscillations of rotating stars, the stability of galaxies, the evolution of globular clusters and other star systems, pulsars, X-ray binary stars, the dynamics of clusters of galaxies, gravitational lensing, astrophysical blast waves, quasars and active galactic nuclei.

Most of Ostriker's work has been in collaboration with young researchers, graduate students in particular. He has supervised some two dozen Princeton Ph.D. students, most of whom are now faculty at research universities.


Curriculum Vitae

Born: New York, New York, April 13, 1937

A.B. in Physics and Chemistry, Harvard, 1959
Ph.D. in Astrophysics, University of Chicago, 1964
H.D., Doctor of Science, University of Chicago, 1992
Postdoctoral Fellow, Cambridge University (England), 1964-65

- Research Associate and Lecturer, Princeton University, 1965-66
- Assistant Professor, Princeton University, 1966-68
- Associate Professor, Princeton University, 1968-71
- Professor, Princeton University, 1971-
- Chairman, Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University and Director, Princeton University Observatory, 1979-1995
- Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy, Princeton University, 1982-
- Member of the Editorial Board and Trustee, Princeton University Press, 1982-84, 1986
- Visiting Professor, Harvard University, and Regents Fellow, Smithsonian Institute, 1984-85, Regents Fellow 1987
- Visiting Miller Professor, University of California-Berkeley, 1990
- Provost, Princeton University, 1995-
- American Museum of Natural History, Trustee, 1997-

Awards, Prizes and Fellowships

National Science Foundation Fellowship, 1960-65
Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, 1970-72
Helen B. Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society, 1972
Sherman Fairchild Fellowship of California Institute of Technology, 1977
Henry Norris Russell Prize of the American Astronomical Society, 1980
Smithsonian Institution's Regents Fellowship, 1985
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1992
Vainu Bappu Memorial Award of the Indian National Science Academy, 1993
Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the Astronomische Gesellschaft, 1999

Professional Societies

American Astronomical Society, 1963-
Councilor, 1978-80
Chairman, Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy, 1988-89
International Astronomical Union, 1966-; U. S. Representative, 1978-81
Commission 48, High Energy, Vice President, 1988-91; President 1991-94
National Academy of Sciences, 1974-
Astronomy Representative, Class Membership Committee, 1977, 1978, 1987, 1988, 1993
Assembly of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, 1977-80
Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Resources, 1987-91
Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1992-95
Council Member, 1992-95, Board of Governors, 1993-95, Audit Committee, 1994-95
Executive Committee of Decennial Surveys:
Greenstein Commission, 1969-1973
Field Commission, 1978-83
Bahcall Commission, 1988-91
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1975-
Royal Astronomical Society, Associate Member, 1994-
American Philosophical Society, 1994-
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Foreign Member, 1999-

Primary Field of Interest

Theoretical Astrophysics

November 2000