August 21, 2012
2012 Gruber Cosmology Prize Received By Johns Hopkins Astrophysicist Charles Bennett
Johns Hopkins University professor Charles L. Bennett and members of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) space mission that he led will receive the Gruber Foundation´s 2012 Cosmology Prize in Beijing, China tomorrow.
Bennett and the 26-member WMAP team will share the $500,000 prize and are being recognized by the foundation for their transformative study of an ancient light dating back to the infant universe. So precise and accurate are the WMAP results that they form the foundation of the
Standard Cosmological Model.
“It is tremendously exciting to be recognized with the Gruber Cosmology Prize,” said Bennett, Alumni Centennial Professor of Physics
and Astronomy and Gilman Scholar in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins´ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “I have been very fortunate to work with the talented and fine people of the WMAP team, and I am particularly delighted that our
entire science team has been honored with this prestigious award.”
Under Bennett´s direction, the WMAP mission determined with unprecedented precision the age, shape (WMAP nailed down the curvature
of space to within 0.6% of conventional Euclidean geometry), composition and history of the universe from the first-ever, exquisitely detailed
full-sky “baby picture” of the universe, dating from when it was only 378,000 years old -- 13.75 billion years ago. Using this picture, the team determined that the universe consists of 72.8 percent dark energy, 22.7 percent dark matter and 4.6 percent atoms. The team also concluded that the first stars formed when the universe was only about 400 million years old. The WMAP data substantiated key predictions of the cosmic inflation paradigm that describes the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of the universe, while at the same time ruling out some specific implementations of the theory. WMAP data also place limits on the mass of the neutrino (an elementary particle with no electrical charge and travels at almost the speed of light), and provide evidence for primordial helium, consistent with big bang theory predictions.
The annual Gruber Cosmology Prize recognizes “fundamental advances in our understanding of the universe,” according to the foundation´s
website. The Cosmology Prize is co-sponsored by the International Astronomical Union and aims to acknowledge and encourage further
This is the second time that Bennett has been honored by the Gruber Foundation. In 2006, the Prize was awarded to NASA´s John Mather and
the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) team, of which Bennett was a member. The WMAP team honored this year includes Johns Hopkins associate research scientists David Larson and Janet Weiland. Throughout his career Bennett has made significant contributions to the knowledge of cosmology through pioneering measurements of the cosmic background radiation, the oldest light in the universe and a remnant of the hot, young universe. For this research, Bennett has received many previous accolades, including the 2010 Shaw Prize, the 2009 Comstock Prize in Physics, the 2006 Harvey Prize, the 2005 Draper Medal, the 1992 and 2004 NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award, the 2003 NASA Outstanding Leadership Award.
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