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Rice alum at NASA shares $1 million Shaw Prize

FishmanRice University alumnus Gerald Fishman '69 has earned one of the richest honors in science, the $1 million Shaw Prize, announced this week in Hong Kong.

Fishman, an astrophysicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is principal investigator on a long-running project to unlock the secrets of gamma-ray bursts, deep-space beacons that puzzled scientists since their discovery in the 1960s. Fishman shared the prize with his colleague Enrico Costa of the Institute of Space Astrophysics and Cosmic Physics in Rome.

Fishman's project, the Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE), was a cluster of gamma ray detectors aboard NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Dutch-Italian satellite BeppoSAX, both launched in the '90s. Constant observation of transient gamma-ray bursts, which last from seconds to minutes, allowed investigators to pinpoint their sources: supernova explosions and neutron star mergers in distant galaxies.

Though the mission ended in 2000, analysis of the data is still serving the astrophysics community, according to NASA.

Fishman earned a bachelor's degree in physics at the University of Missouri, Columbia, in 1965, and a master's and a doctorate in space physics and astronomy at Rice in 1969 and 1970, respectively.

Run Run Shaw, a Hong Kong media entrepreneur with interests in scientific and medical research and education, established the Shaw Prize in 2002. The awards will be given at a ceremony in Hong Kong in September.