Harvard researchers Robert Kirshner, Christopher Stubbs, and Peter Challis have been named co-recipients of the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for their role in the 1998 discovery of dark energy and the accelerated expansion of the universe. This discovery fundamentally changed our understanding of the universe and resulted in a Nobel Prize in Physics for this work.
"We were astonished to find the universe was speeding up. Many wise people thought we'd find it was slowing down. This Prize recognizes what a breakthrough that observation was. Nature gets the last word," said Kirshner.
The honor is being shared between the 51 scientists who are members of the two teams that simultaneously discovered dark energy. Kirshner, Stubbs and Challis were members of the High-z Supernova Search Team, which was led by Adam G. Riess and Brian P. Schmidt.
Eleven of the 19 members of the High-z Supernova Search Term are or previously were affiliated with Harvard University. Both Riess and Schmidt were graduate students under Robert Kirshner, and the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of dark energy grew out of the work they did as graduate students. The members of the High-z Team also shared in the Gruber Prize for Cosmology in 2007.
The second team, the Supernova Cosmology Project, was headed up by Saul Perlmutter, who studied at Harvard as an undergraduate before joining the University of California at Berkeley.
Robert Kirshner is Clowes Professor of Science at Harvard University and author of The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos. Christopher Stubbs is Samuel C. Moncher Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Harvard University. Peter Challis is a technical specialist and project manager at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The prizes, which are also awarded for mathematics and life sciences, aim to celebrate scientists and generate excitement about the pursuit of science as a career. Breakthrough Prizes are funded by a grant from Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki's foundation, The Brin Wojcicki Foundation; a grant from Mark Zuckerberg's fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; a grant from Jack Ma Foundation; and a grant from Milner Foundation.
The awards were presented at an exclusive Gala co-hosted by founders Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, Yuri and Julia Milner, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter at NASA's Ames Research Center. Seth MacFarlane hosted the ceremony, which also featured Kate Beckinsale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Diaz, Jon Hamm and Eddie Redmayne as presenters.
The ceremony will be simulcast in the United States on Discovery Channel and Science Channel on Saturday, November 15 at 6 PM ET/PT, and televised globally the weekend of November 22 on BBC World News.