Prof. Michael Gladders is the 2022-2023 recipient of the Marian and Stuart Rice Research Award

February 8, 2023

Professor Michael Gladders has received the ’22–’23 Marian and Stuart Rice Research Award, a Divisional honor that provides $75,000 for intellectually exciting and innovative research ventures that enable new research directions.

Gladders joined the University of Chicago in 2006 and has been a full professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the College since 2018. An observational astronomer, whose research is focused primarily on the formation and evolution of distant galaxies, Gladders has led the design and construction of two instruments for the 6.5m Magellan telescopes. He is also the UChicago science representative to the Giant Magellan Telescope project, of which the university is a founding partner.

“I am utterly delighted to receive this award. It will enable some key research into operational strategies and efficiency gains for the Giant Magellan Telescope. I’m deeply thankful to Professor Rice for this opportunity, and I hope the planned research will have a lasting impact on the research productivity of my many colleagues at the University of Chicago, and beyond, for many years.” 

With his research team, Gladders exploits the effects of cosmological strong gravitational lensing, in conjunction with the capabilities of large research telescopes both on the ground and in space, to extract high-resolution data on distant galaxies. In the past few years, his research group has consisted primarily of undergraduate students from the recently created Astronomy and Astrophysics major program; the students have made extensive use of the university’s institutional access to the 6.5m Magellan telescopes in Chile to make major discoveries, including the brightest galaxy known in the distant early cosmos. 

Their proposed research will explore several promising avenues for efficiency gains in the operations models of the current Magellan and the upcoming Giant Magellan Telescope, both located at the Las Campanas Observatory. Gladders aims to combine his deep experience with these complex facilities with analysis of the prior use of telescopes, weather records and prior operational models at several observatory sites in Chile, to better understand how to optimize future observatory operations. This work will include artificial intelligence techniques to explore the complex real-time weather data available at the observatory to attempt to predict site conditions on short timescales, which will enable better at-night execution of observing programs.

For a project of the scale of the Giant Magellan Telescope, efficiency gains of even a few percent equate to additional research data worth millions of dollars per year. Gladders’ great hope is that this initial research will enable the observatory to realize such gains for all users of these facilities. The award will be used primarily to fund the participation of the University of Chicago undergraduates in this research. 

The university’s access to the Magellan telescopes and the future Giant Magellan Telescope is a key pillar of the research endeavor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and effectively gaining more on-sky observing time through more efficient usage of allocated nights will benefit all users of the telescope. This abundance of data will enable Gladders’ group to continue the discovery work they are known for: searching for and confirming extreme and rare instances of gravitational lensing that enable unique research on distant galaxies. 

The Marian and Stuart Rice Research Award was established by the family of Stuart Alan Rice, the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Chemistry and former chairman of the Department of Chemistry and dean of the Physical Sciences (1981-1995). It is awarded annually to promote new directions of research in the physical and mathematical sciences at the University of Chicago.

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