LSU Physicist Receives Breakthrough Prize for Discovery of Dark Energy

11/17/2014 10:01 AM

November 17, 2014

BATON ROUGE – It was previously thought that the expansion of the Universe was slowing. However, LSU Professor of Physics & Astronomy Bradley Schaefer, a member of the Supernova Cosmology Project research team, contributed to the breakthrough discovery that the expansion of the Universe is actually accelerating. Schaefer and his colleagues are recipients of the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for their part in advancing our understanding of the Universe. Their discovery of the previously unknown form of energy embedded in the fabric of space called Dark Energy and its role in the accelerated expansion of the Universe won them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011.

“I feel honored and lucky to have been part of the Supernova Cosmology Project team that discovered Dark Energy, setting up fun discoveries and mysteries about the origin and fate of our Universe,” Schaefer said.

Both awards recognize his collaboration with 50 other researchers on this discovery.

“Dr. Schaefer’s contributions to this effort have been monumental to our understanding of the Universe,” said Cynthia Peterson, dean of the LSU College of Science. “I am extremely proud of his work and the prestige it brings to the Department of Physics & Astronomy and LSU’s research enterprise.”

Schaefer and the Supernova Cosmology Project research team share the award with the High-Z Supernova Search Team, which arrived at the same finding. In January 1999, both research teams came to the same result: an accelerating expansion of the Universe due to 70 percent of its mass energy being Dark Energy. To determine the distance between galaxies and how fast they are retreating, the scientists measured Ia supernova explosions, which burn at a known brightness. Schaefer measured the brightness of all the supernovas for his team’s research from the WIYN telescope located at Kitt Peak in Arizona.

This discovery changed the world as we know it and created a new field of study into the nature of Dark Energy. Their groundbreaking finding also offers some scientific predictions of how the Earth will end. According to the researchers, a consequence of this acceleration is that the Universe will continue expanding forever, becoming colder and emptier as time goes on.

Lead investigator of the Supernova Cosmology Project, Saul Perlmutter of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and U.C. Berkeley and High-Z Supernova Search Team leaders Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University and Adam Riess of Johns Hopkins University, accepted the award on behalf of all of the researchers. The Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-Z Supernova Search Team also received the 2007 Gruber Prize for Cosmology, a $1 million award.

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics was founded by entrepreneur Yuri Milner in 2012 to honor important contributions to the world’s understanding of Physics. The Breakthrough Prize also awards discoveries in Life Sciences and Mathematics. Winners in each category receive a $3 million prize, which is more than double the Nobel Prize. Once the funds are divided between all collaborators, Schaefer will receive $32,787 for his involvement in the research.

This year’s award recipients were announced on Nov. 9 at a gala at the NASA Ames Research Center. Several celebrities presented the awards including Kate Beckinsale, Benedict Cumberbatch and Cameron Diaz. The Breakthrough Prize was founded by Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma, Cathy Zhang, Yuri and Julia Milner, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The event aired on the Discovery Channel and Science Channel on Nov. 15.

About The Breakthrough Prizes
The Breakthrough Prize aims to celebrate scientists and generate excitement about the pursuit of science as a career. Breakthrough Prizes are funded by grants from Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki's foundation, The Brin Wojcicki Foundation, Mark Zuckerberg’s fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Jack Ma Foundation and the Milner Foundation.

Related Links:
Faculty Page for Bradley Schaefer
2015 Breakthrough Prize Winners

Dawn  Jenkins 
LSU College of Science
Alison  Satake 
LSU Media Relations

Posted on Monday, November 17, 2014