Hopkins scientist wins 2010 Shaw Prize in astronomy

A Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist whose work helped determine the precise age and composition of the universe will share the $1 million Shaw Prize in astronomy for 2010, the school announced Thursday.

Charles Bennett and two colleagues at Princeton University are being honored for their groundbreaking work with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, a spacecraft launched in 2001 to study cosmic background radiation, said to be a remnant of the "big bang" that scientists say marked the birth of the universe.

In 2003, Bennett, along with David Spergel and Lyman Page at Princeton, announced their finding that the universe was 13.7 billion years old and that the atoms familiar to science constitute less than 5 percent of it. The rest, they concluded, consists of one-quarter dark matter and nearly three-quarters a mysterious force dubbed "dark energy."

Bennett said in a Hopkins news release Thursday that he was "deeply grateful" for the honor. He called the Wilkinson mission "an extraordinary adventure for me. … These accurate and precise measurements were only possible because of the hard work of the talented and dedicated WMAP team."

The Shaw Prize, sometimes called the "Nobel of the East," was created in 2002 by Hong Kong film and television magnate Run Run Shaw to honor extraordinary accomplishments in astronomy, life sciences, mathematics and medicine.

Bennett is the second Hopkins scientist to win the Shaw astronomy prize. The first was Adam Riess, who shared the prize in 2006 for the discovery of dark energy.

The 2010 Shaw Prizes will be awarded in September at ceremonies in Hong Kong.



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