The Leroy Apker Award of the American Physical Society is given annually to recognize outstanding achievements by undergraduate students. A single recipient is selected from the nominees of all PhD granting institutions. This year’s winner is 2007 University of Michigan Physics graduate Matthew Becker. The award especially notes Becker’s undergraduate research work, on “The Velocity Structure of MAXBCG Galaxy Clusters from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey”. This work formed the basis of Becker’s Williams Prize winning senior thesis, and has since been published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Galaxy clusters are the most massive object in the Universe. Each contains ten to hundreds of galaxies brighter than the Milky Way. Becker’s work probes the connection between the number of galaxies in a cluster and its mass. By carefully examining the motions of galaxies in clusters, he was able to constrain both the mean mass in clusters as a function of galaxy number, and also the scatter in this relation. Since the number of clusters as a function of mass is sensitively dependent on cosmology, Becker’s work provides a key input to future cluster cosmology projects, like the Dark Energy Survey. Several additional publications related to this project are in the works.
The Apker Award also recognizes Becker’s other work at Michigan, including his outstanding classroom performance, his support of teaching as a study group leader in several physics core classes and editing the Undergraduate Research Forum. The award consists of $5,000 to the recipient, and an allowance for travel to the APS meeting at which the award is presented. In addition, the Michigan Physics Department will receive a $5,000 award to support undergraduate research. In September 2008, Becker began his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he intends to continue his study of cosmology and the large scale structure of the Universe.
 Becker, M.R., et al., 2007, “The Mean and Scatter of the Velocity Dispersion-Optical Richness Relation for maxBCG Galaxy Clusters”, accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, also astro-ph/0704.3614.