Exploring the mysterious missing matter of the cosmos

Eminent Australian astronomer Ken Freeman – an expert on the invisible dark matter pervading the universe – will be awarded the Dirac Medal at UNSW this week and deliver the 2016 Dirac Lecture.

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Blue in this image represents dark matter within the galaxy cluster MACS J0416.1–2403. Image: NASA

Eminent Australian astronomer Ken Freeman – an expert on the invisible dark matter pervading the universe – will be awarded the Dirac Medal at UNSW this week and deliver the 2016 Dirac Lecture.

There is five times more mysterious dark matter in the universe than there is normal matter – the stars and galaxies that we can observe with optical and radio telescopes.

“We know the dark matter is there because we can measure its gravity, but we still don't know what it is,” says Freeman, who is Duffield Professor of Astronomy at the Australian National University.

He was one of the first scientists to point out – in 1970 – that spiral galaxies contain a large fraction of dark matter.

“The story of the discovery of dark matter in the universe started in 1933,” he says. “It is an intriguing saga of brilliant discoveries that were ignored for decades, other discoveries that turned out to be correct but for the wrong reasons, and the gradual realisation that dark matter defines the entire structure of the universe in which we live.”

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Professor Ken Freeman, recipient of the Dirac Medal.

Freeman joined the staff of Mount Stromlo Observatory in 1970 and uses a number of optical and radio telescopes in Australia, as well as large optical telescopes in Spain, Chile, and Hawaii, to observe the universe.

Among his many accolades, he won the Prime Minister's Prize for Science in 2012, and shared the international Gruber Prize for Cosmology in 2014. He became a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1981 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1998.

The Dirac Medal for the Advancement of Theoretical Physics is awarded by UNSW in association with the Australian Institute of Physics NSW branch and The Royal Society of NSW.

The Lecture, hosted by UNSW Science and the Medal commemorate the visit to UNSW in 1975 of the British Nobel laureate, Professor Paul Dirac, who was one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the 20th Century.

Professor Dirac gave five lectures which were published as a book Directions of Physics. He donated the royalties to UNSW for the establishment of the Dirac Lecture and Prize, which includes a silver medal and honorarium. It was first awarded in 1979.

What: 2016 Dirac Lecture by Professor Ken Freeman and Dirac Medal presentation

Date: 5.45 pm–7.30 pm, Thursday 13 October, 2016 

Where: Tyree Room, John Niland Scientia Building

Registration: Registration is essential. Please register your attendance here.