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Planck scientists awarded prestigious EPS Edison Volta Prize

30 March 2015

Three scientific leaders of ESA's Planck mission have been awarded the 2015 EPS Edison Volta Prize for outstanding contributions to physics. The prize acknowledges the crucial roles of Nazzareno Mandolesi, Jean-Loup Puget and Jan Tauber in directing the development of the Planck payload and the analysis of its data. The Planck mission has provided the most precise picture of the early Universe to date.

The three scientific leaders of Planck: Jean-Loup Puget, Nazzareno Mandolesi, and Jan Tauber. Credit: Per Lilje

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is the most ancient light observed in the history of the Universe, dating back to only 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Since its discovery half a century ago, significant steps have been made in the detection and understanding of this fundamental probe of our cosmos.

Launched in 2009, ESA's Planck satellite is a third-generation space mission to study the CMB. It has provided scientists with a wealth of data to study the tiny fluctuations in this fossil light, which trace the seeds of today's cosmic structure in the early Universe.

Now, in this International Year of Light, the work of Planck's three principal scientific leaders has been recognised with the prestigious 2015 EPS Edison Volta Prize for outstanding contributions to physics. The prize is awarded by the European Physical Society (EPS) in collaboration with the Centro di Cultura Scientifica Alessandro Volta in Italy and the Italian energy company Edison S.p.A.

The recipients of the award are: Nazzareno Mandolesi from University of Ferrara, Italy, who is the principal investigator of the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI); Jean-Loup Puget from Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris Sud and CNRS, France, who is the principal investigator of the High Frequency Instrument (HFI); and Jan Tauber, ESA Planck Project Scientist based at ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

The three scientists are acknowledged "for directing the development of the Planck payload and the analysis of its data, resulting in the refinement of our knowledge of the temperature fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background as a vastly improved tool for doing precision cosmology at unprecedented levels of accuracy, and consolidating our understanding of the very early Universe."

Commenting on the announcement of this award, Jan Tauber says: "Planck has greatly contributed to revealing the history of the cosmos by tracing its most ancient light record with unprecedented accuracy. It is truly an honour to receive this prestigious award for contributing to a mission which has been forged by thousands of people – engineers, scientists, and administrators – and which would not have been completed without the support of ESA, many other funding agencies and, ultimately, the willingness of taxpayers to fund fundamental science."

"The prize acknowledges Planck's achievements and its extraordinary legacy, which scientists will dig into for years to come. We have measured to incredible accuracy the fundamental parameters of the standard cosmological model to describe the Universe. Yet, there is still plenty of room for other investigations to build upon this, in the grand attempt to bring cosmology and particle physics closer and closer," says Nazzareno Mandolesi.

"The award is also a testament to the dedicated and meticulous work of everyone involved in the data analysis, separating the CMB from the foreground emissions produced by our own Galaxy and other galaxies and clusters, allowing scientists to check for the first time theories about the initial phase of the expansion of our Universe. We are delighted to receive such a recognition during the year 2015, which celebrates light and our capability, as humans, to employ it for the scientific understanding of the Universe we live in," says Jean-Loup Puget.

In March 2013, Planck's first all-sky image of the CMB was published, providing the most precise picture of the early Universe so far. Several hundreds of scientific papers based on the first batch of measurements have been published in the past four years, reporting cutting-edge studies on a variety of topics, ranging from cosmology to the evolution of galaxies and galaxy clusters, to the formation of stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

These were followed, in February 2015, by the public release of Planck's maps of polarised light, an independent probe to study both the early Universe and the diffuse material that pervades the Galaxy.

However, many secrets about the origin and evolution of the cosmos are still lurking in the data collected by Planck over the years, and scientists will be busy for a long time exploring this treasure trove of cosmological information.

More about the EPS Edison Volta award

The EPS Edison Volta Prize is normally awarded every two years by the European Physical Society (EPS), the Centro di Cultura Scientifica Alessandro Volta and Edison S.p.A., to honour outstanding achievements in physics. These include exceptional discoveries, significant breakthroughs in research and relevant contributions to a research field through novel methods, instruments or facilities.

In 2012, the winners were Rolf Dieter Heuer, Sergio Bertolucci and Stephen Myers for "leading the culminating efforts in the direction, research and operation of the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which resulted in many significant advances in high energy particle physics, in particular, the first evidence of a Higgs-like boson in July 2012". The winner in 2014 was Jean-Michel Raimond from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, for "seminal contribution to physics that have paved the way for novel explorations of quantum mechanics and have opened new routes in quantum information processing".

This year's prize is a special edition to mark 2015 as International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies.

The three laureates have been awarded the prize at a ceremony held on 27 March 2015 at the EPS Council meeting in Bad Honnef, Germany. There will also be another award ceremony later in the year, organised by Edison S.p.A. and Centro di Cultura Scientifica Alessandro Volta in Italy.

More about Planck

Launched in 2009, Planck was designed to map the sky in nine frequencies using two state-of-the-art instruments: the Low Frequency Instrument, which includes three frequency bands in the range 30–70 GHz, and the High Frequency Instrument, which includes six frequency bands in the range 100–857 GHz.

HFI completed its survey in January 2012, while LFI continued to make science observations until 3 October 2013, before being switched off on 19 October 2013. Seven of Planck's nine frequency channels were equipped with polarisation-sensitive detectors.

The Planck Scientific Collaboration consists of all the scientists who have contributed to the development of the mission, and who participate in the scientific exploitation of the data during the proprietary period. These scientists are members of one or more of four consortia: the LFI Consortium, the HFI Consortium, the DK-Planck Consortium, and ESA's Planck Science Office. The two European-led Planck Data Processing Centres are in Paris, France and Trieste, Italy.

The LFI consortium is led by N. Mandolesi, Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Italy (deputy PI: M. Bersanelli, Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy), and was responsible for the development and operation of LFI.

The HFI consortium is led by J.L. Puget, Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale in Orsay, France (deputy PI: F. Bouchet, Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, France), and was responsible for the development and operation of HFI.


Jan Tauber
ESA Planck Project Scientist
Scientific Support Office
Directorate of Science and Robotic Exploration
ESA, The Netherlands
Phone: +31-71-565-5342

Nazzareno Mandolesi
Principal Investigator, Low Frequency Instrument
Università di Ferrara, Italy
Phone: +39-335-6507026

Jean-Loup Puget
Principal Investigator, High Frequency Instrument
Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale
Orsay, France
Phone: +33-169858665

Last Update: 30 March 2015

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