Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cal's Saul Perlmutter wins Nobel Prize in physics

Saul Perlmutter, a Berkeley astrophysicist, and two other Americans have won this year's Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery of a mysterious force called dark energy that has been pushing the universe apart for billions of years at ever-increasing speeds.

The discovery, confirmed by Perlmutter and his international team in 1998, came as a surprise to scientists around the world for its implication that despite the tug of gravity amassed by the countless galaxies and worlds in space, the universe will expand with greater and greater speed until everything everywhere is cold, dark and alone.

Scientists had known for nearly 80 years that the universe was expanding, but they had no idea whether the expansion would continue, slow down or stop.

Perlmutter, 52, who heads a group of physicists and astronomers called the Supernova Cosmology Project, will receive half the Swedish award of nearly $1.5 million, while the two leaders of a competing international team, Adam Riess, 41, a former Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley now at Johns Hopkins University, and Brian Schmidt, 44, of Australia's Mount Stromlo and Siding Springs Observatories, will share the other half. Their group is called the High Z Supernova Search Team.

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