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Kibble, Peebles and Rees Share the 2013 Dirac Medal

Three physicists honoured for ground-breaking work

08/08/2013 - Trieste, Italy

ICTP has awarded its 2013 Dirac Medal to three of the world's foremost physicists whose combined work has deepened our understanding of the early universe, galaxy formation and black holes.

Thomas W.B. Kibble, Phillip James E. Peebles and Martin John Rees share this year's Dirac Medal for their independent, ground-breaking work throughout their careers elucidating many aspects of fundamental physics, cosmology and astrophysics.

Professor Kibble, a Senior Research Fellow and Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London, UK, has made major contributions to the physics of spontaneous symmetry breaking, the mechanism by which a physical system "loses" some of its symmetries,  and to its cosmological consequences. Kibble was among the first to study in the 1960s what is now called the Higgs mechanism (an example of spontaneous symmetry breaking), the process by which subatomic particles first gain their mass through interactions with the Higgs boson (the elusive particle that CERN detected last year). Kibble investigated what happens when a symmetry "disappears" as the universe evolves from the Big Bang and understood the importance of "topological defects", which are relics of the past symmetric phase.

Professor Peebles, Albert Einstein Professor Emeritus of Science and Professor Emeritus of Physics at Princeton University, USA, was one of the first scientists to predict the existence of the cosmic microwave background (a background of microwaves permeating the whole universe that originated from the Big Bang) and to study its implications for the development and evolution of the universe. He has also made major contributions to all areas of cosmology, including nucleosynthesis, dark matter, dark energy and structure formation.

Professor Rees, a Fellow of Trinity College and Professor Emeritus of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, UK, has made numerous important contributions to cosmology and astrophysics, including the origin of quasars (distant, bright objects in the universe that appear at the centre of young galaxies) and active galactic nuclei, the prediction of supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies, the physics of gamma ray bursts, the polarisation of the cosmic microwave background and the study of dark matter and of the first luminous objects.

ICTP's Dirac Medal, first awarded in 1985, is given in honour of P.A.M. Dirac, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century and a staunch friend of the Centre. It is awarded annually on Dirac's birthday, 8 August, to scientists who have made significant contributions to theoretical physics.