An Astronomical Deep Space Search Engine

Increase the efficiency of research through intelligent access to information

Modern information technologies are transforming the way we think in a manner similar to, but much faster than, the invention of the printing press and the formation of large library collections did 500 years ago. We are just at the beginning of this revolution; what we do now could have lasting and profound effects on the future of our species. The research of Dr. Michael Kurtz, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is centered on inventing and implementing methods to facilitate the efficient interaction of human scientists with our rapidly growing collective knowledge, particularly in the domains of astronomy and physics. As the developer of one of the first scientific search engines to ever be developed, the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS) [], and as an observational cosmologist, Dr. Kurtz has a remarkable history for innovative and relevant research. Dr. Kurtz continues to develop the ADS, which has become the largest digital library portal for astronomers and physicists in existence and is used each day by researchers all over the world. For three decades, he has been looking into ways to understand the huge corpus of digital text we possess, with an increase in funding, Dr. Kurtz hopes to more quickly and effectively design helpful tools for researchers.

Due to the connection with ADS, Dr. Kurtz's research has the ability to directly influence the daily research behavior of more than 50,000 scientists and will effect a few hundred thousand other researchers. In addition to his individual research, Dr. Kurtz is also committed to the dissemination of other important ideas. As the moderator for the Astrophysical Instruments and Methods section of arXiv, Dr. Kurtz evaluates all the technology preprints that go to press within Astrophysics. Dr. Kurtz  views "knowledge as a collaborative exercise," where knowledge continues to build upon itself due to the interaction between people. Having entered a new era of faster computers with more memory, he remarks, "we are in a new timescale domain and have to figure out what we are going to do with the enormous amount of information." As the only person to hold the dual distinction of Fellow of the American Physical Society in the Astrophysics Section and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the Computer, Communication, and Information Science Division and as the van Biesbroeck Prize and ISI Citation Research Award winner, Dr. Kurtz is highly qualified to continue to advance towards organizing the incredible amount of information in an accessible way for researchers.

  • Improving ADS: Dr. Kurtz will merge the results of automated text analysis and text mining algorithms with human annotation. He hopes that by doing so, he and his team will be able to capture the information from both sources to make the literature available more accessible.
  • Search Engine Technologies: Dr. Kurtz is further developing the search engine technologies within ADS by using mathematical properties to create a multidimensional space where all the dimensions represent concepts. Therefore, his work hopes to inform search and discovery strategies.
  • Accessing Vast Amount of Information: With the amount of literature increasing by 3-4% each year, it has become impossible for one to read everything they would need to about a subject. Therefore, Dr. Kurtz and his team are working to figure out ways to better organize data in order for researchers to have the most efficient access possible.


Michael Kurtz is an astronomer and computer scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he joined after receiving a Ph.D. in Physics from Dartmouth College in 1982. Kurtz is the author or co-author of over 300 technical articles and abstracts on subjects ranging from cosmology and extra-galactic astronomy to data reduction and archiving techniques to information systems and text retrieval algorithms. In 1988 Kurtz conceived what has now become the  Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System, the core of the digital library in astronomy, perhaps the most sophisticated discipline centered library extant. He has been associated with the project since that time, and was awarded the 2001 Van Biesbroeck Prize of the American Astronomical Society for his efforts.

When Dr. Kurtz was a young man, he developed a degenerative eye disease and eventually became legally blind. During this time, he explains, he "drifted quite a bit." Finally, he had a distinct turning point. While visiting his brothers in California and hiking up a small creek in Topanga Canyon, he decided blind or not, he would think for a living. Out of all the things to think about, he found the nature of the universe to be most exciting. For him, this meant investigating cosmology and particle physics. Dr. Kurtz then went back to school, and eventually had a cornea transplant which restored his sight. After earning his Ph.D. in physics, he started a career as an observational cosmologist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Soon after starting his career, he became fascinated by some of the meta issues in science, how do we organize our knowledge, how do we conceive of new things, and how can the then emerging revolutions in computing and communications improve and extend how we think? This lead him to conceive a digital library for astronomy as a nexus of people, data, and ideas. He lead the building of this in 1992 and the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System has been a mainstay of research ever since. Today, it is used by every astronomer and is one of the world's most important sources of scientific information.

In his free time, aside from research, Dr. Kurtz enjoys listening to music and collecting coins. He also enjoys cooking, making most of his recipes up as he goes. As a grandfather to six, he keeps busy spending time with his growing family.

List of publications via ADS: (h index 33),michael&nr_to_return=all

List of publications via Google Scholar: (h index 36)

Wikipedia article:




van Biesbroeck Prize

American Astronomical Society

ISI Citation Research Award

American Society for Information Science and Technology

Fellow, Astrophysics division

American Physical Society

Fellow, Computer, Communications, and Information Science section

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Founding member; Board of Advisors