Hometown hero physics professor awarded for work

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Physics professor Eiichiro Komatsu remembers listening to stories as a child about the late Hideki Yukawa, Japan’s first Nobel Laureate in physics. He never thought he would one day be awarded the honorary Nishinomiya-Yukawa Memorial Prize for physics.

“My father was the vice principal of an elementary school in Nishinomiya, [Japan], where a stone monument commemorating Yukawa’s achievements was,” Komatsu said. He said he often visited the monument as a child and was impressed by Yukawa’s accomplishments.

Komatsu, director of UT’s Texas Cosmology Center, was honored with the distinction for his studies of the early universe as a member of NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe science team.

Using the satellite, Komatsu and his team measured the radiation left from the Big Bang to gain a deeper understanding of the early universe, he said.

Since the mission was launched in 2001, the team has mapped the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation to produce a complete map of the microwave sky, calculating the approximate age of the universe and determining the approximate percentage composition of dark energy in the universe, according to NASA.

Komatsu will travel to Nishinomiya, his birthplace, to receive the prize at its city hall on Nov. 4.

“What is really special about this prize is that it is coming from my hometown,” he said. “My father passed away in 2005, but my mother thinks that if he would have known, he would have been thrilled.”

Komatsu now plans to explore dark energy using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in West Texas, he said.

Physics graduate student Jonathan Ganc has been researching cosmic inflation under Komatsu’s guidance for about two years. He said that Komatsu’s award reflects well on Texas and the department.

“We are all very excited for him,” Ganc said. “Besides his hardworking and modest nature, what is really impressive about him is that he tries to make science a collaborative effort, between departments at the University and between universities themselves.”

Komatsu has also advised astronomy graduate student Chi-Ting Chiang on his Cosmic Microwave Background research.

“He is very good at explaining things and also makes an effort to spend time with his students,” Chiang said. “He is also the only one who can unify diverse concepts: physics and astronomy, theory and observation.”