Three astrophysicists working on exploding stars known as supernovas won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics today, for their “discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations” of supernovas, according to a citation from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
The winners are Saul Perlmutter, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley; Brian P. Schmidt, of the Australian National University; and Adam G. Riess, of the Johns Hopkins University’s Space Telescope Science Institute. Mr. Perlmutter, head of the Supernova Cosmology Project, was awarded half of the prize, which is worth about $1.5-million this year. Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Riess, both of the High-z Supernova Search Team, shared the other half. The group has previously been honored with Shaw and Gruber Prizes.
In an interview with The Chronicle in 2004 about the implications of the discovery and of the universe’s possible end in a violent “Big Rip,” Mr. Perlmutter made light of the situation. “Our family has made only the usual preparations: a three-day supply of water, extra batteries, reading matter,” he said. But he noted that, for higher education at least, there was an upside: “Previous turnover in universes has led to early retirements, opening up new opportunities for younger faculty from a more diverse population of species.”
Today’s award, the second of the 2011 Nobel Prizes, follows Monday’s award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to three scientists, one of whom died last Friday.