UA Astronomer Xiaohui Fan Wins Guggenheim Fellowship

Fan is using the Large Binocular Telescope to find the oldest quasars.
April 25, 2008
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Xiaohui Fan
Xiaohui Fan

A University of Arizona astronomer is among 190 artists, scholars and scientists from the United States and Canada receiving 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship Awards.

Xiaohui Fan, an associate professor of astronomy at Steward Observatory, is the only Arizonan and the only astronomer to win a Guggenheim this year.

Guggenheim Fellows are chosen on the basis of "stellar achievement and exceptional promise for continued accomplishment," according to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The winners in the 84th annual U.S. and Canadian Guggenheim competition were chosen from a group of more than 2,600 applicants.

Fan will use his $42,000 fellowship to take a sabbatical leave at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, to work on a project aimed at discovering the most distant galaxies and quasars with the Large Binocular Telescope, or LBT, on Mount Graham, Ariz. The LBT – a private telescope operated by an international consortium of institutes and universities in Italy, Germany, and the United States – is the world's most powerful telescope.

Fan is among the group of UA astronomers who collaborate with German and Italian colleagues in developing the LBT's capability to detect the earliest galaxies and quasars in the universe. The German team has built a new infrared spectrograph to be installed on the LBT later this year so astronomers can take detailed spectra of the earliest quasars. The instrument will be the most powerful infrared spectrograph yet built, Fan said.

For the past five years, he has been part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey team conducting a large survey that has so far turned up more than 60,000 quasars, including the majority of the most distant quasars known. Fan also helped build the survey.

His observational and theoretical research on quasars is to understand the process of "cosmic reionization," when the first generation of galaxies and quasars illuminated the universe and ended what astronomers call the cosmic dark age. When and how reionization happened are among the most important questions of modern cosmology, Fan said.

"Our astronomy department has a long history of faculty recognition," said Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science. "It is now Dr. Xiaohui Fan's turn to be richly recognized by the Guggenheim Foundation for his incredible work. The award recognizes the best in the country, and Dr. Fan is certainly in that elite category."

Fan earned his doctorate from Princeton University in 2000, his master's degree from Beijing Astronomical Observatory in 1995, and his bachelor's degree from Nanjing University in 1992. He joined the UA in 2002. He won an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 2003, the American Astronomical Society's Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in 2003, and a David and Lucile Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering in 2004. Fan's professional service also includes membership on the LBT Scientific and Technical Committee, the Giant Magellan Telescope Working Group, and panels that planned observations with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Telescope.

The Guggenheim Foundation stated in a news release, "One of the hallmarks of the Guggenheim Fellowship program is the diversity of its Fellows, not only in their fields of endeavor but in their geographic location and ages."

In all, 75 disciplines ranging from the natural sciences to the creative arts are represented by this year's Guggenheim Fellows.

"In a time of decreased funding for individuals in the arts, humanities and sciences, the Guggenheim Fellowship program has assumed a greatly increased importance," the news release stated.