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2005 Gruber Cosmology The Science

James E. Gunn has been a central figure in all three major arenas of astronomy research — theory, observation and instrumentation. He has made fundamental contributions to our theoretical understanding of the intergalactic medium, pulsars, gravitational lensing, the cosmological constant, galaxy and large-scale structure formation, and astroparticle physics.

He has led highly successful observational programs to study the cosmic distance scale, the mass of the Milky Way, the internal dynamics of globular clusters, the geometry of the Universe and distant radio galaxies, quasars and clusters of galaxies.

He has played a major role in the construction of many of the most powerful instruments developed for the Palomar Observatory 5-meter telescope over the past two decades, and in the design and construction of the most productive and versatile first-generation instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope.

Finally, he conceived, designed and built the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), a revolutionary project to construct the first digital catalog of most of the northern sky. SDSS has completed its five-year survey. Its most recent public data release contains 180 million celestial objects, covers over 6,500 square degrees and provides high-quality spectra of 850,000 objects. SDSS has provided maps of the distribution of galaxies and quasars with unprecedented depth and accuracy and discovered an astonishing variety of astronomical objects ranging from nearby brown dwarfs to the most distant quasars.

Gunn also has trained a long list of superb students and post-docs who now populate astronomy departments around the country and the world.

by Scott Tremaine