Thomas Prince (scientist)

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Thomas A. Prince
Education Villanova University
University of Chicago
Occupation Director of the W. M. Keck Institute for Space Studies
Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair, W. M. Keck Institute for Space Studies
Ira S. Bowen Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology
Jet Propulsion Laboratory Senior Research Scientist
Thomas Prince Scientist Thomas Prince.jpg
Thomas Prince

Dr. Thomas A. Prince is the Ira S. Bowen Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology and holds a joint appointment with Caltech’s NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a Senior Research Scientist. Between May 2001 and June 2006, Prince was the Chief Scientist at JPL. He is currently the Director and Allen V.C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair for the W. M. Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech.

Ira Sprague Bowen was an American physicist and astronomer. In 1927 he discovered that nebulium was not really a chemical element but instead doubly ionized oxygen.

California Institute of Technology private research university located in Pasadena, California

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a private doctorate-granting research university in Pasadena, California. Known for its strength in natural science and engineering, Caltech is often ranked as one of the world's top-ten universities.

Keck Institute for Space Studies

The Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) is a joint institute of the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory established in January 2008 with a $24 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation. It is a privately funded think tank focused on space mission concepts and technology.

Research and Career

Prince began his research career in experimental cosmic ray astrophysics before coming to the Caltech campus to work in the area of experimental gamma ray astronomy, collaborating with the high-energy astrophysics group at JPL. Prince became a Millikan Fellow in 1980 and joined the Caltech professorial faculty in 1983. Detection and study of neutron stars and black holes has been a continuing theme in Prince's research, starting with his gamma ray observations of compact objects in the galactic center region. He participated in several expeditions to the Australian outback in the late 1980s to make balloon observations of the radioactive decay energy from Supernova 1987a.

During the late 1980s and 1990s, Prince became interested in the evolving field of parallel computing which he applied to several areas of astronomy including radio, x-ray and gamma-ray pulsar detection, imaging infrared surveys, optical interferometric imaging, and development of virtual observatory capabilities. Prince chaired the consortium that developed the Intel Touchstone Delta, one of the early large-scale general-purpose parallel computers. He was also one of the initiators of the US National Virtual Observatory.

Intel Paragon

The Intel Paragon is a discontinued series of massively parallel supercomputers that was produced by Intel in the 1990s. The Paragon XP/S is a productized version of the experimental Touchstone Delta system that was built at Caltech, launched in 1992. The Paragon superseded Intel's earlier iPSC/860 system, to which it is closely related.

The US National Virtual Observatory'-NVO- was conceived to allow scientists to access data from multiple astronomical observatories, including ground and space-based facilities, through a single portal. Originally, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the information technology research that created the basic NVO infrastructure through a multi-organization collaborative effort. The NVO was more than a “digital library”; it was a vibrant, growing online research facility akin to a bricks-and-mortar observatory for professional astronomers.

Starting in the late 1990s, Prince began to work on development of techniques for detection of gravitational waves from neutron star and black hole systems. He was NASA Mission Scientist and chair of the US science team for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) and was earlier a member of the ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO).

Laser Interferometer Space Antenna

The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) is a European Space Agency mission designed to detect and accurately measure gravitational waves—tiny ripples in the fabric of space-time—from astronomical sources. LISA would be the first dedicated space-based gravitational wave detector. It aims to measure gravitational waves directly by using laser interferometry. The LISA concept has a constellation of three spacecraft, arranged in an equilateral triangle with sides 2.5 million km long, flying along an Earth-like heliocentric orbit. The distance between the satellites is precisely monitored to detect a passing gravitational wave.

Most recently, Prince has been using the Palomar Transient Factory to carry out time-domain studies of astronomical sources, including ultra-compact binaries.

The Palomar Transient Factory, was an astronomical survey using a wide-field survey camera designed to search for optical transient and variable sources such as variable stars, supernovae, asteroids and comets. The project completed commissioning in summer 2009, and continued until December 2012. It has since been succeeded by the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF), which itself transitioned to the Zwicky Transient Facility in 2017/18. All three surveys are registered at the MPC under the same observatory code for their astrometric observations.

Among the positions that Prince has held are: Associate Director, Caltech Center for Advanced Computing Research (CACR); member of the National Research Council Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and applications; co-chair of the National Research Council Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics; and chair of the NASA Gamma Ray Observatory Users' Committee.

Compton Gamma Ray Observatory space observatory

The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO) was a space observatory detecting photons with energies from 20 keV to 30 GeV, in Earth orbit from 1991 to 2000. It featured four main telescopes in one spacecraft, covering X-rays and gamma rays, including various specialized sub-instruments and detectors. Following 14 years of effort, the observatory was launched from Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-37 on April 5, 1991, and operated until its deorbit on June 4, 2000. It was deployed in low earth orbit at 450 km (280 mi) to avoid the Van Allen radiation belt. It was the heaviest astrophysical payload ever flown at that time at 17,000 kilograms (37,000 lb).

He is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society and has received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

Prince is an avid amateur photographer, working in the near-infrared region of the spectrum.

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