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Rashid Alievich Sunyaev Headshot

Rashid Alievich Sunyaev

Scientific journals and the popular press offer endless variations on the proper English spelling for the name of the 2003 Cosmology Prize winner, but they are unanimous in their assessment of his importance.

Rashid Sunyaev is one of the leading cosmologists of the Moscow school and of the world. He also is known for his affable manner, his extensive collaborative efforts, his ability to communicate advanced concepts to a lay audience, and his personal attention to detail.

Sunyaev was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in former Soviet Central Asia in 1943. He trained in physics for six years at the Moscow Physical-Technical Institute, then studied at the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1968 he earned his Candidate of Sciences (equivalent to a doctorate) degree, and in 1973, his Doctor of Sciences degree in astrophysics from Lomonosov Moscow University.

He is perhaps the best known and certainly one of the most accomplished protégées of the famous Soviet cosmologist Yakov Zeldovich. In 1974 the two men organized a Department of Theoretical Astrophysics in the Space Research Institute (IKI) of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and Sunyaev headed the department until 1982. Then he organized a Department of High Energy Astrophysics in the IKI.

This High Energy Astrophysics department was responsible for the international orbital X-ray observatory that operated on board the MIR-KVANT space station for 12 years, bringing together Russian, British, Dutch and German X-ray instruments. A highlight of the mission was the discovery of hard X-ray emission for Supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud, connected with radioactive decay during the star explosion. Sunyaev and a colleague predicted the observed radiation spectrum.

Sunyaev's department was also responsible for the operation of the GRANAT International Orbital Observatory launched in December 1989, and for the analysis of the scientific data it collected. That effort employed Russian, French and Danish scientific equipment. The spacecraft discovered three A-ray novae, detected quasi-periodic oscillations in the power spectra of four black hole candidates, and discovered the first superluminal radiosource in our galaxy.

In 1995, Sunyaev became a director of the Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik in Munich, Germany, where he continues to build an international reputation. He has made a point also to maintain an affiliation with the Space Research Institute in Moscow, despite the difficulties of budgetary cutbacks there, and has been credited with saving some of the scientific excellence of the former Soviet space program.

He is married to Gyuzal Sunyaeva, also a native of Tashkent, and he has three sons and one daughter.