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News Release 67 of 137

May 16, 2006 01:00 PM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2006-21

Astronomer Wins Top Prize for Creating Black Hole Web Site

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Astronomer Wins Top Prize for Creating Black Hole Web SiteView this image

What would it be like to orbit a black hole, or even to fall into one? You can find out by exploring the world of black holes in an award-winning Web site created by a team led by Roeland van der Marel, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.

The Web site won the top prize for 2005 in the Pirelli INTERNETional Award competition, the first international multimedia contest for the communication of science and technology on the Internet. The award covers interactive audio visual formats such as flash animations, CD-ROMs, and Web sites.

Awards are given in five categories: physics, chemistry, mathematics, life sciences, and information and communications technology. Van der Marel's Web site won the award for physics and also beat the other category winners to claim the top prize. His team created the black holes Web site with the help of a NASA education and public outreach grant.

The award-winning interactive Web site is entitled "Black Holes: Gravity's Relentless Pull." The public-friendly site, filled with animations and graphics, rescues black holes from the realm of science fiction and puts them back into the domain of science. The site can be explored on Hubblesite (, the Internet home of Hubble Space Telescope news.

"Our goal is to show that even the most mysterious of things can be understood with the combined application of human thinking and powerful technology," van der Marel explains. "We want to convey the importance of scientific thought and hope to instill, especially in the younger generation of viewers, an appreciation for learning and an interest in science."

Van der Marel and his collaborators will receive their prize during a ceremony May 16 in Rome, Italy. The winning team also consists of Gijs Verdoes Kleijn, formerly of the Institute and now at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and Educational Web Adventures of St. Paul, Minn., led by David Schaller, which was responsible for the design and development of the Web site.

An international jury selected the Pirelli award winners from 1,000 entries from more than 50 countries. The jury included Riccardo Giacconi, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in physics and former Institute director. Launched in 1996, the award is sponsored by the same Italian company that makes Pirelli tires.

Van der Marel is an expert on black holes and the structure of galaxies. His research, which includes using the Hubble telescope to study galaxies, has contributed to the discovery that supermassive black holes exist in the centers of most galaxies. He earned a doctorate in astronomy in 1994 from Leiden University in the Netherlands. In 1997, he received a fellowship at the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Hubble telescope's science operations center. He is now a member of the Institute's science staff and is also an adjunct associate professor at nearby Johns Hopkins University.


Donna Weaver
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
(Phone: 410-338-4493; E-mail:

Roeland van der Marel
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
(Phone: 410-338-4931; E-mail: