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Hiranya Peiris

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Hiranya Peiris
Peiris in 2016
Hiranya Vajramani Peiris

1974 (age 49–50)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge (BA)
Princeton University (PhD)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity College London
Stockholm University
University of Chicago
University of Cambridge
ThesisFirst year Wilkinson microwave anisotropy probe results : cosmological parameters and implications for inflation (2003)
Doctoral advisorDavid Spergel[1]

Hiranya Vajramani Peiris is a British astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, where she holds the Professorship of Astrophysics (1909).[2] She is best known for her work on the cosmic microwave background radiation, and interdisciplinary links between cosmology and high-energy physics.[3] She was one of 27 scientists who received the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in 2018 for their "detailed maps of the early universe."[4]

Education and early life[edit]

Peiris was born in Sri Lanka.[5] She completed the Natural Sciences Tripos at University of Cambridge in 1998,[6] as an undergraduate student of New Hall, Cambridge.[7][8] She earned a PhD at Princeton University from the department of astrophysical Sciences with advisor David Spergel, where she first worked on the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP).[1][9][10]

Career and research[edit]

After her PhD, she went on to work at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago as a Hubble fellow.[9] Having held several competitive postdoctoral fellowships,[11] in 2007 Peiris returned to the University of Cambridge as an Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) advanced fellow and was awarded a junior research fellowship at King's College, Cambridge in 2008. In 2009, Peiris won a Leverhulme Trust award for cosmology and secured a faculty position at University College London.[12]

She is currently Professor of Astrophysics (1909) at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge.[13] She was previously the Director of the Oskar Klein Centre for Cosmoparticle Physics at Stockholm University,[14] and a Professor of Astrophysics at University College London.[15]

In 2012, the WMAP team (including Peiris) won the Gruber Cosmology Prize for their "exquisite measurements of anisotropies in the relic radiation from the Big Bang—the Cosmic Microwave Background".[16] WMAP's results on cosmic inflation, which Peiris contributed to, were described by Stephen Hawking as "the most exciting development in physics during his career".[17]

She was skeptical about the 2014 announcement of the discovery of primordial gravitational waves in the cosmic microwave background: "If they announce gravitational waves on Monday then I will need a great deal of convincing. But if they do have a robust detection ... Jesus wow! I'll be taking next week off." [18] Her skepticism proved well-founded: on 30 January 2015, a joint analysis of BICEP2 and Planck data was published and the European Space Agency announced that the signal can be entirely attributed to dust in the Milky Way,[19] though (non-primordial) gravitational waves have since been detected by different experiments.

In 2018, Peiris was awarded the Hoyle Medal and Prize of the UK Institute of Physics for “her leading contributions to understanding the origin and evolution of cosmic structure."[20]

In 2020 Peiris was awarded the Göran Gustafsson Prize in physics by the Göran Gustafsson Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences "for her innovative research on the dynamics of the early universe, which links cosmological observations to basic physics”.[21] She was also elected as a member of STFC Council, the senior strategic advisory body of the research council that funds particle physics and astronomy in the United Kingdom.[3]

In 2021, Peiris was awarded the Max Born Medal and Prize by the German Physical Society and the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in recognition of her contributions to cosmology.[22][23]

Peiris was elected as a Foreign Member in the Physics Class of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) in May 2022.[24] In 2023, Peiris was appointed Professor of Astrophysics (1909) at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge.[13]

Public engagement[edit]

Alongside academic talks, Peiris gives public lectures about cosmology.[25][26] She has written articles and given interviews for both radio and print media.[27] She has appeared on podcasts, television programs and the national news.[28] In 2013 she gave a talk at TEDxCERN, "Multiplying Dimensions."[29] That year she was selected as one of Astronomy's top ten rising stars by Astronomy Magazine.[30]

In 2014, the pseudonymously-written Ephraim Hardcastle diary column in the Daily Mail claimed that Peiris (along with Maggie Aderin-Pocock) had been selected to discuss results from the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP-2) experiment on BBC Newsnight because of her gender and ethnicity. These comments were condemned by mainstream media, the Royal Astronomical Society and Peiris' employer, University College London,[31][32] and the Daily Mail and its column backed down within days.[31][32] Peiris offered a rebuttal, "Groundbreaking science is blind to prejudice" in Times Higher Education.[33]

In 2017, Peiris collaborated with artist Penelope Rose Cowley to create artwork entitled "Cosmoparticle".[34] In 2018 Peiris contributed to an artwork by artist Goshka Macuga, which was exhibited at a 2019 exhibition held at the Bildmuseet, Sweden, featuring works by 14 international artists inspired by particle physics.[35][36]

Awards and honours[edit]

Peiris was a member of the 27-person team awarded the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.[37] The US $3 million award was given for the detailed maps of the early universe generated from WMAP.[38] WMAP is a NASA explorer mission that was launched in 2001, which has transformed modern cosmology.[39] Other prizes include:

Peiris receiving the Fowler Prize in 2012 from Roger Davies


  1. ^ a b Peiris, Hiranya (2003). First year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe results: Cosmological parameters and implications for inflation (Thesis). Bibcode:2003PhDT.........9P. OCLC 53202248. ProQuest 288167013.
  2. ^ Hiranya Peiris publications indexed by Google Scholar Edit this at Wikidata
  3. ^ a b "STFC Council member - Professor Hiranya Peiris". ukri.org. STFC Council. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  4. ^ Oral history interview transcript with Hiranya Peiris on 21 April 2021, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library & Archives
  5. ^ Goodyear, Charis. "The cosmologist solving questions at the boundary of our understanding". cam.ac.uk. This Cambridge Life. Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  6. ^ Thompson, Michael T J (2005). Advances In Astronomy: From The Big Bang To The Solar System. World Scientific. p. 122. ISBN 1-78326-019-X.
  7. ^ "Career Path: Exploring fingerprints from the Big Bang". Murray Edwards College – University of Cambridge. 19 November 2015. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  8. ^ UCL (26 January 2018). "Hiranya Peiris". Cosmoparticle Initiative. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  9. ^ a b "Iris View Profile". iris.ucl.ac.uk. Retrieved 12 December 2017.[self-published source?]
  10. ^ Thompson J Michael T (26 October 2005). Advances In Astronomy: From The Big Bang To The Solar System. World Scientific. pp. 99–. ISBN 978-1-78326-019-5.
  11. ^ "Dr Hiranya Peiris". Astronomy & Geophysics. 53 (1): 1.37. February 2012. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4004.2012.53136_7.x.
  12. ^ "The Leverhulme Trust, 2009 Award Winners" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 April 2016. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Hiranya Peiris appointed Professor of Astrophysics (1909)". www.ast.cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  14. ^ "Prof Hiranya Peiris - Oskar Klein Centre". ucl.ac.uk. Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  15. ^ "Prof Hiranya Peiris". ucl.ac.uk. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  16. ^ a b "2012 Gruber Cosmology Prize Citation | The Gruber Foundation". gruber.yale.edu. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  17. ^ "2013 Smart Guide: New maps to rein in cosmic inflation". New Scientist. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  18. ^ "Gravitational waves: have US scientists heard echoes of the big bang?". the Guardian. 14 March 2014. Retrieved 24 August 2022.
  19. ^ Cowen, Ron (30 January 2015). "Gravitational waves discovery now officially dead". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2015.16830. S2CID 124938210.
  20. ^ a b Physics, Institute of. "2018 Fred Hoyle Medal and Prize". iop.org. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  21. ^ a b Physics Department, Stockholm University. "Göran Gustafsson Prize". fysik.su.se. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  22. ^ a b "2021". DPG. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  23. ^ a b "Eddington Medal 2021 – Professor Hiranya Peiris" (PDF). Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  24. ^ a b "Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien". kva.se. Retrieved 20 June 2022.
  25. ^ The Royal Institution (10 August 2016), Cosmology: Galileo to Gravitational Waves – with Hiranya Peiris, retrieved 12 December 2017
  26. ^ "Hiranya Peiris | In the Dark". telescoper.wordpress.com. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  27. ^ "Multiverse Proof Possibility From Colliding Universes | Quanta Magazine". Quanta Magazine. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  28. ^ Devlin, Hannah; Jackson, Graihagh (24 May 2019). "Cross Section: Hiranya Peiris – Science Weekly podcast". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  29. ^ "TEDxCERN | TED". ted.com. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  30. ^ "Astronomy Magazine names "Rising Stars of Astronomy"". earlyuniverse.org. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  31. ^ a b "Scientist (PhD in astrophysics) shocked by reference to her ethnicity". The Independent. 21 March 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2017. A Mail spokesman said the paper fully accepted that the women were highly qualified in their field and that that was the reason they were chosen for interview. Yesterday's Ephraim Hardcastle column stated: "I accept without questions that both ladies are highly qualified."
  32. ^ a b Meikle, James (21 March 2014). "Daily Mail accused of insulting top female scientists". The Guardian. A Mail spokesman made it clear that the paper fully accepts that the women were highly qualified in their field and that was the reason they were chosen for interview. The Mail is in contact with Professor Price.
  33. ^ "Groundbreaking science is blind to prejudice". Times Higher Education (THE). 27 March 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  34. ^ "COSMOPARTICLE". Art by Penelope Rose Cowley. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  35. ^ "Imaginative intersection". physicsworld.com/. 18 June 2020. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  36. ^ "Entangled Realities: Minding the Gap by Ariane Koek". clotmag.com. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  37. ^ "Breakthrough Prize – Fundamental Physics Laureates – Norman Jarosik and the WMAP Science Team". breakthroughprize.org. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  38. ^ "RAS Vice-President Professor Hiranya Peiris shares Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics". ras.ac.uk. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  39. ^ "Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP)". map.gsfc.nasa.gov. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  40. ^ Larsson, Per. "Stockholm University receives four ERC Advanced Grants – Stockholm University". su.se. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  41. ^ "Cosmoparticle Physicists awarded share in Buchalter Cosmology Prize". ucl.ac.uk. 29 January 2019. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  42. ^ "Awards Won – Astrophysics Science Division – 660". science.gsfc.nasa.gov. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  43. ^ "Fundamental Physics Breakthrough Prize". breakthroughprize.org. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  44. ^ "Buchalter Cosmology Prize for Bubble Collision Simulations". earlyuniverse.org. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  45. ^ Massey, Robert. "RAS honours leading astronomers and geophysicists". ras.org.uk. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  46. ^ "Young researchers win Philip Leverhulme Prizes". Astronomy & Geophysics. 50 (6): 6.08. December 2009. Bibcode:2009A&G....50f...8.. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4004.2009.50604_16.x.
  47. ^ "Dr Hiranya Peiris – Research Councils UK". webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 14 July 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  48. ^ "Kavli Frontiers of Science Alumni". National Academy of Sciences.

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