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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Alum wins Nobel Prize in physics

Brian Schmidt, a 1989 UA physics and astronomy alumnus has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, along with two other researchers.

Schmidt, now a professor at the Australian National University, won the award with professor Adam Riess from Johns Hopkins University and professor Saul Perlmutter from the University of California, Berkeley, for their discovery that the universe is expanding at an exponentially increasing rate, driven by a force known as dark energy. The discovery was originally announced in 1998, and has been verified by several studies since then.

“At that point I must admit I thought a mistake had been made but that mistake never went away,” Schmidt said in an interview posted on the Nobel Prize website.

Schmidt said that, though a great deal of uncertainty about the exact nature of dark matter still exists, the current model of the universe is well known and widely accepted.

“We have an uncertainty of what the dark energy actually is, that is, why does it exist, but the model of dark energy, dark matter, normal atoms, really explains in exquisite detail the observations we make in the universe,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt could not be reached for additional comment as of press time.

Peter Strittmatter, the head of the UA astronomy department, said he remembers Schmidt as one of the UA’s “best and brightest.”

“He was clearly destined for success,” Strittmatter said. “Obviously it’s a long way from an undergraduate degree in physics to getting a Nobel Prize but he certainly showed lots of early signs.”

Strittmatter said he thinks the importance of his undergraduate work cannot be ignored.

“Brian’s achievements are his own,” he said. “But I think he got a good start here.”

Buell Jannuzi, an astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory on Tucson’s Kitt Peak, was a teaching assistant in one of Schmidt’s classes. Januzzi said that, though it is hard for him to differentiate Schmidt as an undergraduate student with him in his later academic career, he remembers Schmidt as “very inquistive.”

“He did the work he was being recognized for when he was really young too so you can see that he has a real interesting excitement in learning and in trying to understand the world and universe,” Januzzi said. “That was evident when he was a student and has clearly carried on.”

The discovery has fundamentally changed scholastic thinking on the nature of physics and matter, Strittmatter said.

“He and his colleagues, and others, have really revolutionized the understanding, or at least thinking, about fundamental questions,” he said.

The three researchers will receive their prizes in Stockholm on Dec. 10.

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