Phil Hopkins, the Ira S. Bowen Professor of Theoretical Physics, has been named a 2023 Simons Investigator. Simons Investigators are "outstanding theoretical scientists who receive a stable base of research support from the foundation, enabling them to undertake the long-term study of fundamental questions," according to the Simons Foundation, which grants the awards. The honor comes with $150,000 in research support per year for five years.
Hopkins studies the formation of astronomical objects like galaxies, stars, and supermassive black holes. He creates computer simulations that model the complex interactions between small and large astronomical objects. For example, his simulations have helped elucidate how the formation of a single star can have an impact on a galaxy as a whole. These so-called feedback loops between stars, black holes, and galaxies are crucial to understanding the masses and structures of galaxies.
"The Simons Investigator award will support students and postdoctoral fellows in my group who are working to expand their long-term understanding of how physics processes on vastly different astrophysical scales ‘talk to' one another," Hopkins says. "Especially critical in this endeavor is the ability to develop novel algorithms that can be used in our simulations to evolve phenomena occurring on timescales of seconds over the lifespan of the universe, which is billions of years."
Some of Hopkins's findings include a new theory to explain how the movement of clumps of dust through gas shapes planets and stellar winds; new simulations of our galaxy that solve the decades-old puzzle of why it appears to be missing smaller satellite galaxies; and a new paradigm to understand the growth of supermassive black holes.
Recent simulations by Hopkins and his colleagues also answer questions about why most stars are about the size of our sun, why dwarf galaxies around our galaxy are aligned in a plane, and how some galaxies lose their dark matter.
More information about the 2023 Simons Investigators can be found here.