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Hopkins astrophysicist honored for discoveries about the universe

Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Adam Riess, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics, took home another prestigious award for his work on the expanding universe.
Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Adam Riess, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics, took home another prestigious award for his work on the expanding universe. (Hairston,Kim / Baltimore Sun)

Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Adam Riess, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics, has taken home another prestigious award for his work on the expanding universe.

He showed that the universe is not just still expanding but that the expansion is accelerating. It had long been assumed it was slowing.

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The award, the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, was presented Sunday at a gala in California's Silicon Valley that was hosted by Seth MacFarlane and attended by other Hollywood stars.

"The magic of science is to see for the first time something that nobody's ever known or seen before," Riess said in a statement.

The Breakthrough Prizes are awarded annually to leading scientists in physics, life sciences and mathematics. The physics prize recognizes major insights into the "deepest questions of the universe," according to award founders, who aim to honor scientists and spur others to pursue careers in science.

Riess, who also works at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, shared the $3 million prize with Saul Perlmutter of the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Brian P. Schmidt of the Australian National University, and members of the Supernova Cosmology Project.

Riess was the lead author on the first paper to describe the expanding universe, considered an astonishing discovery. He had been studying a type of exploding star called a Type 1a supernova and concluded that the universe's expansion was fueled by mysterious "dark energy." Schmidt was his teammate on the discovery, and Perlmutter had made the same discovery independently but at nearly the same time.

"The world faces many fundamental challenges today, and there are many amazing scientists, researchers and engineers helping us solve them," Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, a founder of the prize along with other entrepreneurs and philanthropists, said in a statement. "This year's Breakthrough Prize winners have made discoveries that will help cure disease and move the world forward. They deserve to be recognized as heroes."

Riess joins another Hopkins scientist in winning the award. Bert Vogelstein was one of 11 winning a prize last year, the inaugural year for the award.

Vogelstein is co-director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at Hopkins and led a team that sequenced cancer genomes and studied mutations in cancer cells to understand the underpinnings of the disease — an effort that could lead to new cancer treatments.

This year's ceremony will be simulcast on the Discovery Channel and Science Channel at 6 p.m. Saturday.

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