Adrian Price-Whelan

2020 Regional Award Winner — Post-Doc

Adrian Price-Whelan

Current Position:
Flatiron Research Fellow

Flatiron Institute

Astrophysics & Cosmology

Recognized for: Innovative use of advanced statistical analysis and computational techniques that have unlocked one of the biggest mysteries of the universe—dark matter. Utilizing satellite data to analyze the motions of stars throughout the outer regions of the Milky Way, Price-Whelan has provided the first clear evidence of dark matter substructure in the outskirts of our galaxy.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Astrophysics, Stellar Populations, Dark Matter, Cosmology, Computational Methods.

Previous Positions:

BA, Physics, New York University (Advisor: D. W. Hogg)
MA, MPhil, Astronomy, Columbia University (Advisor: K. V. Johnston)
PhD, Astronomy, Columbia University (Advisor: K. V. Johnston)
Lyman J. Spitzer, Jr. Fellow, Princeton University (Advisor: D. Spergel)

Research Summary:

Adrian Price-Whelan, PhD, is an astrophysicist developing advanced statistical analysis and computational techniques to unlock one of the biggest remaining mysteries of the known universe—the strange nature of dark matter. Dark matter is an unknown form of matter thought to account for more than 80% of the mass in the known universe. Price-Whelan uses data from the Gaia Satellite to analyze the motions of groupings of stars—also known as stellar streams—throughout the outer regions of the Milky Way galaxy. With the information he has collected on stellar streams, Price-Whelan has developed precise models that provide the first clear evidence of dark matter substructure in the outskirts of our galaxy, bringing scientists one giant step closer to understanding the true nature of dark matter. Prior to this work, theoretical simulations had only predicted the presence of dark matter in the universe. Price-Whelan’s rigorous data models have demonstrated that dark matter may appear in clumps of very low mass around the outer edges of the Milky Way galaxy. These models place the first reliable physical constraints on the once unknown properties of dark matter on small scales. In addition, Price-Whelan has developed statistical tools that characterize the properties of binary star systems (two stars orbiting one another), including star–black-hole companions, which may have important implications for the LIGO gravitational wave observatory. Taken together, Price-Whelan’s work seeks to learn all that our galaxy’s history, structure, and star population can tell us about the cosmos.

"Mentorship is one of the most consequential endeavors we undertake as scientists. My own mentors have filled many different roles in my career, providing both scientific guidance and encouragement, and serving as important role models. We each deserve to have, and should be expected to provide, mentorship experiences that empower ourselves and our mentees to help all scientists become more equitable, inclusive, and successful."

Key Publications:

  1. A. Bonaca, D. W. Hogg, A. M. Price-Whelan, C. Conroy. The spur and the gap in GD-1: dynamical evidence for a dark substructure in the Milky Way halo. The Astrophysical Journal, 2019.

  2. A. M. Price-Whelan et al. Binary companions of evolved stars in APOGEE DR14: search method and catalog of ∼5000 companions. The Astrophysical Journal, 2018.

  3. A. M. Price-Whelan , A. Bonaca. Off the beaten path: Gaia reveals GD-1 stars outside of the main stream. The Astrophysical Journal, 2018.

  4. A. M. Price-Whelan et al. Discovery of a disrupting open cluster far into the Milky Way halo: A recent star formation event in the leading arm of the Magellanic streamThe Astrophysical Journal, 2019.

Other Honors:

2015Dr. Pliny A. and Margaret H. Price Prize in Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics, Ohio State University
2012NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, National Science Foundation
2011Survey architect, SDSS-III, Sloan Digital Sky Survey
2010Samuel F.B. Morse Medal, Department of Physics


In the Media:

Forbes – The Milky Way Is Gaining New Stars From A Collision That Hasn't Even Occurred Yet

Smithsonian Magazine – Streams of Stars Snaking Through the Galaxy Could Help Shine a Light on Dark Matter

Nature – Hidden history of the Milky Way revealed by extensive star maps

Science – Streams of stars reveal the galaxy’s violent history—and perhaps its unseen dark matter

Website   The Center for Computational Astrophysics