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From Vassar to the Cosmos: A Conversation with MacArthur “Genius” Astrophysicist John Carlstrom ’81


Join us for a fireside chat with 2020 AAVC Distinguished Achievement Award recipient John Carlstrom ’81. Moderated by Debra Elmegreen, Professor of Astronomy on the Maria Mitchell Chair, and Emily Frank ’21. Award Ceremony to follow.

Sponsored by the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College and the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development.

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John Carlstrom ’81, who majored in physics at Vassar and earned a PhD in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, is the 2020 recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award designated for an alum who has reached the highest level of achievement in her or his field—in this case, astrophysics. According to the AAVC, “The recipient of this award must demonstrate exceptional talent, application, creativity, and skill within a certain career while also exemplifying the ideals of a liberal arts education, and have used her or his position of visibility, power, or leadership to better the human community and serve the wider goals of society.”

Carlstrom currently chairs the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, where he has taught since 1996. His truly staggering list of professional honors and accolades includes a MacArthur “genius” grant, the Gruber Cosmology Prize from Yale University, election to the National Academy of Sciences, and a NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal.

The MacArthur Foundation noted that Carlstrom “solves astronomical problems with instruments of his own design and construction” and that his devices have allowed astrophysicists to investigate the role of magnetism in star formation and have also led to more accurate measurements of the rate of cosmic expansion. The Gruber Foundation cited Carlstrom for work that “led to the discovery of hundreds of clusters of galaxies going back to when the universe was about one-third its present age, providing a history of the growth of the large-scale structure of the universe.”