In April 2010, an unusual party was held under the clear skies of the Namibian desert. It was an international science conference to celebrate the 70th birthday of Professor Ken Freeman, the Duffield Professor of Astronomy at the Australian National University’s Mt Stromlo Observatory, a man regarded internationally as Australia’s most renowned astronomer.
Among many other achievements, Ken is perhaps best known for putting “dark matter” on the galactic map. In 1970, he published a paper showing that what we see of galaxies – as stars, gas and dust – is only a small fraction of their mass. The rest is invisible, dark matter. It’s a finding which changed the course of astronomy. But that was only the beginning of his career.
More recently, in 2002, he became a founder of what today is one of the hottest fields of investigation in astronomy, galactic archaeology – determining the age and movement of stars in our own galaxy through analysing their chemical composition. The aim is to work out how galaxies were constructed. And the field has become a major driver in the commissioning of new ground and space-based telescopes.
Now, after nearly 50 years of shaping and changing the human view of galaxies and the Universe, Professor Ken Freeman has been awarded the 2012 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.