Bruce and Astrid McWilliams Center for Cosmology Established.-Dept of Physics - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bruce and Astrid McWilliams Center for Cosmology Established.

Pictured above is a supercomputer simulation of colliding galaxies with supermassive black holes at their centers.
Pictured above is a supercomputer simulation of colliding galaxies with supermassive black holes at their centers.

Carnegie Mellon University has announced it has received a major gift from Bruce and Astrid McWilliams to establish the Bruce and Astrid McWilliams Center for Cosmology in its Mellon College of Science. Researchers at the center will strive to unravel the mysteries of the universe through multidisciplinary efforts in astrophysics, particle physics, computer science and statistics.

"Ingrained into the basic DNA of Carnegie Mellon is its ability to work across the boundaries of its departments and schools to form cohesive teams toward a common goal. For this reason the Cosmology Center will thrive at Carnegie Mellon because like few other universities, the interdisciplinary research that will be needed to understand the Cosmos can work better here than at any other institution I know of," said Bruce McWilliams.

A member of Carnegie Mellon's Board of Trustees, Bruce McWilliams earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in physics at Carnegie Mellon. He is chairman and CEO of Tessera Technologies, the world's leading provider of miniaturization technologies for the electronics industry. He and his wife, Astrid, are dedicated supporters of science education in public schools and at Carnegie Mellon. The McWilliams have donated more than $5 million to Carnegie Mellon and are encouraging others who have wondered about the mysteries of the universe to give to the center.

"Although he has spent much of his career founding and running successful businesses in the Silicon Valley, Bruce McWilliams has maintained a very active interest in astrophysics and cosmology, and in fundamental questions about the origins of the universe," said Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon.  "By endowing this Center for Cosmology, Bruce and Astrid McWilliams have created a remarkable resource for our faculty, for graduate students and for undergraduates, for now and for far into the future."

The McWilliams Center will support research that endeavors to advance our understanding of the dark part of the universe. Visible matter from the smallest star to the largest galaxy is a small fraction of the matter in the universe. Dark matter plays a key role in the formation of galaxies and the clustering of galaxies in the universe, while an even more mysterious dark energy is responsible for accelerating expansion of the universe. Together, elusive dark matter and dark energy make up 95 percent of the mass-energy budget of the universe.

"With our combined expertise in physics, computer science and statistics, we at Carnegie Mellon are uniquely poised to tackle some of the toughest questions of cosmology," said Mellon College of Science Dean and Buhl Professor of Theoretical Physics Fred Gilman. "The McWilliams have enabled us to capitalize on Carnegie Mellon's strengths and, through their generosity, given us the opportunity to become a world-class center of cosmology."

Scientists at the McWilliams Center will use a variety of observational, experimental, theoretical and computational approaches to search for answers to some of the fundamental questions needed to uncover the dark part of the universe. Research areas will include the study of the distribution of dark matter and the behavior of dark energy using the latest tools in data-mining, statistics and computer science; the search for dark matter particles at the Large Hadron Collider; and advanced cosmological simulations of galaxy formation and the large-scale structure of the universe. Researchers will collaborate with scientists from other areas at the university and partner institutions, including the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh.

The gift has already enabled the center to stake a presence in the field of cosmology. In January, Carnegie Mellon became a member of the collaboration building the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which will be the world's most powerful survey telescope. In June, the McWilliams Center will host the Ninth Great Lakes Cosmology Workshop, which will draw some of the best young minds in the region to discuss their work in the field.

The center will be housed in Carnegie Mellon's Wean Hall, where renovations will be made on existing space to provide a sense of unity among researchers and to enhance intellectual interactions.

In addition to supporting the activities and infrastructure of the center, the McWilliams' gift will fund postdoctoral fellowships in cosmology and graduate fellowships for Mellon College of Science students pursuing research in cosmology and other emerging fields.

Carnegie Mellon's Mellon College of Science maintains innovative research and educational programs in biological sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics and several interdisciplinary areas. For more information on the Bruce and Astrid McWilliams Center for Cosmology, visit

See also:  story in the Pitsburgh Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review, and in  Physics Today.