The Inamori Foundation announced this year's Kyoto Prizes on June 24. It awarded the Basic Sciences prize to astrophysicist Rashid Sunyaev of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics and the Advanced Technology prize to materials scientist John W. Cahn of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Sunyaev merited the prize for his work on the cosmic microwave background radiation. With the Soviet physicist Yakov Zel'dovich, he pioneered the idea that this background radiation originated with the big bang and that observing it today could inform scientists about the early universe and its expansion. Sunyaev and Zel'dovich also created a new method for measuring the distances between galaxy clusters based on the clusters' scattering of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

In addition, Sunyaev worked with Nikolai Shakura to form a model explaining how black holes sucking in matter create identifying x-ray and gamma-ray emissions.

Cahn earned the Advanced Technology prize through his work on alloys. One of his theories allowed engineers to craft alloys with specific characteristics, such as strength and heat resistance, to best fit them for precise functions. In addition, he helped develop the Cahn-Hilliard equation, which describes the phase separation of a wide variety of materials, from water to galaxies.

Every year, the Inamori Foundation awards the Kyoto Prizes to those around the world who have made "significant contributions to the betterment of society." Each of these researchers, along with Tamasaburo Bando V, the recipient of the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy, will receive a medal and 50 million yen (approximately $625,000) at a ceremony this November.

Image of cosmic microwave backgroud radiation map courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)