American Institute of Physics
Press Release

John E. Carlstrom Wins 2024 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics

JAN 11, 2024
University of Chicago astrophysicist celebrated for work investigating the cosmic microwave background for clues about the early universe.
Headshot of John E. Carlstrom, winner of the 2024 Heineman Prize for Astrophysics

John E. Carlstrom, winner of the 2024 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics


WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2024 – The Heineman Foundation, American Institute of Physics, and American Astronomical Society are pleased to announce John E. Carlstrom as the winner of the 2024 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics.

Carlstrom was selected “for pioneering work on microwave interferometry and his leading role in the development of the South Pole Telescope, leading to the observations of clusters of galaxies through the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect, B-Mode polarization in the cosmic microwave background and strong evidence for a flat universe, all of which changed the field for generations to come.”

“AIP congratulates Dr. Carlstrom for this achievement and his inspired work investigating the cosmic microwave background to shed light on the conditions of the early universe,” said Michael Moloney, chief executive officer of AIP. “His innovative observation strategies have paved the way for a deeper understanding of the evolution of the cosmos.”

Currently the Subramanyan Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Physics, Carlstrom has been driven by curiosity. He grew up outside Poughkeepsie, New York, and earned his bachelor’s in physics from Vassar before pursuing a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. In graduate school, he discovered that by working on experiments, he could combine his interest in building new things with his passion for exploring the cosmos.

In 1964, physicists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson built a highly sensitive radio antenna, but they were plagued by a relentless noisy signal that persisted regardless of the time of day or where it pointed in the sky. The inconvenient static proved to be the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).

First theorized in the 1940s, the CMB is a projection of the very hot, extraordinarily dense, early universe that has stretched and cooled in the expansion since. From this cosmological fossil, physicists investigate the conditions at the first light of the universe to understand its evolution. Throughout his career, Carlstrom has greatly contributed to our understanding of CMB by designing and executing observations.

“Before the South Pole Telescope, I worked at the South Pole on the Degree Angular Scale Interferometer (DASI), which was a very novel, small interferometer, used to measure the cosmic microwave background,” said Carlstrom. “With that, we were able to measure the angular power spectrum of the cosmic microwave background – the ripples across the sky that form the map of the early universe – and then use the spectrum to constrain the geometry and the stuff that makes up of the universe.”

Using DASI, Carlstrom and his team obtained precise measurements of the slight fluctuations in CMB temperature and polarization. Their detection of the acoustic peaks and E-mode polarization provided evidence supporting the current understanding of the Big Bang, Cosmic Inflation, and the Lambda-CDM Standard Model of Cosmology.

Taking further advantage of the South Pole’s excellent observing conditions, Carlstrom led the development of the South Pole Telescope (SPT). The 10-meter telescope discovered galaxy clusters through the spectral distortion the high-energy electrons present in the clusters’ impact on the CMB, known as the Sunyaev–Zeldovich effect. Surveying 2,500 square degrees of the sky, the collaboration detected hundreds of distant galaxy clusters.

The SPT collaboration also identified B-mode polarization in the CMB. The “curl” component of the radiation polarization was caused by gravitational lensing, but it is theorized that primordial gravitational waves, produced during Cosmic Inflation, would also produce this type of polarization.

Carlstrom continues to pursue higher sensitivity and precision observations of the CMB. He works with the SPT and is participating in the upcoming CMB-S4 project, which will further the search for the fingerprints of the primordial gravitational waves.

“It is amazing to me that we have this window, if you will, which allows us to look back nearly 14 billion years to the early universe,” he said. “By studying and making detailed maps of the CMB, we can solve for all the dynamics and the makeup of the universe before atoms formed. We are able see the seeds which led to the structure in the universe today.”

Carlstrom is honored to receive this award and credits the contributions of his collaborators.

“It feels so special that AIP and AAS, the experts in understanding and exploring the universe, appreciate my work. That means a lot to me, and I am happy I can contribute,” said Carlstrom. “I want to note that individuals cannot do this work alone. I have worked with great people, on great teams, and I am extremely thankful to them.”

Carlstrom’s award of the 2024 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics will be announced at the 243rd AAS meeting in New Orleans on Jan. 11. He will be invited to speak at next year’s AAS Winter Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, and will receive a certificate and a $10,000 award.



The prize is named after Dannie N. Heineman, an engineer, business executive, and philanthropic sponsor of the sciences. The prize was established in 1979 by the Heineman Foundation for Research, Education, Charitable and Scientific Purposes, Inc. Awarded annually by the AIP and the AAS, the prize consists of $10,000 and a certificate citing the contributions made by the recipient(s) plus travel expenses to attend the meeting at which the prize is bestowed.


The mission of AIP (American Institute of Physics) is to advance, promote, and serve the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity. AIP is a federation that advances the success of our 10 Member Societies and an institute that operates as a center of excellence supporting the physical sciences enterprise. In its role as an institute, AIP uses policy analysis, social science, and historical research to promote future progress in the physical sciences. AIP is a 501(c)(3) membership corporation of scientific societies.


The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899, is a major international organization of professional astronomers, astronomy educators, and amateur astronomers. Its membership of approximately 8,000 also includes physicists, geologists, engineers, and others whose interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising the astronomical sciences. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe as a diverse and inclusive astronomical community, which it achieves through publishing, meetings, science advocacy, education and outreach, and training and professional development.