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UCSB Physicist Receives Prestigious Plous Award

Tommaso Treu is recognized for his achievement in research, teaching and service to the university.

Tommaso Treu, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics, has received UCSB‘s 2008-09 Harold J. Plous Award. One of the university’s most prestigious faculty honors, the award is given annually to an assistant professor from the humanities, social sciences or natural sciences who has shown exceptional achievement in research, teaching and service to the university. The award was established in 1957 to honor the memory of Harold J. Plous, an assistant professor of economics.

Treu will have an opportunity to showcase his research when he delivers the annual Plous Lecture next spring. The date has not yet been set.

“Professor Treu is an outstanding choice for this prestigious institutional honor,” Chancellor Henry Yang said. “The Plous Award is such a meaningful peer recognition, not only of professor Treu’s leading research achievements in exploring how galaxies formed and evolved over cosmic time, but also of his dedication to teaching and mentoring, and especially his collaborative efforts to connect science and the humanities. We look forward to his Plous Lecture next spring.”

A Hubble Fellow at UCLA before joining the UCSB faculty in 2004, Treu received his Ph.D. in physics at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy. His many distinctions include a Career Award from the National Science Foundation, a Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and a Research Fellowship from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, all received within one year.

In addition, Treu has been involved with the most advanced earth- and space-based telescopes in operation, including the W.M. Keck Observatory, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope. He also serves on a 12-member committee that advices NASA on the operation of the Hubble Telescope.

Treu’s research focuses on the nature of galaxy formation, and specifically on the cosmic evolution of three main elements in spheroid galaxies: black holes, stars and dark matter. His research achievements include the discovery of a “double Einstein ring,” a never-before-seen phenomenon of gravitational lensing. This discovery prompted the American Astronomical Society to herald Treu’s accomplishment as a major breakthrough in astrophysics.

Working with the Hubble Space Telescope Project using a similar technique, Treu was able to examine a tiny galaxy — the smallest ever seen at that distance — from about halfway across the universe. He will be exploring the possibilities for gravitational lensing on the planned Thirty Meter Telescope and recently coordinated a program at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics on the applications of gravitational lensing.

“The physics faculty is proud and honored that professor Treu has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Plous Award,” said Mark Srednicki, chairman and professor of physics. “His stellar accomplishments in research, teaching, mentoring and service are well known in our department, and it is gratifying to see them receive broader recognition as well.”

Omer Blaes, a professor of physics who nominated Treu for the Plous Award, said: “He cares deeply about advancing the careers of young people, from engaging undergraduates in research to working closely with postdoctoral students. In fact, many young scientists with prize postdoctoral fellowships have been attracted to UCSB because of him.”

Andrea Estrada represents UCSB Internal Affairs.

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