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Johns Hopkins Astrophysicist Charles L. Bennett Receives 2013 Jansky Prize

Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Charles L. Bennett has been selected to receive the 2013 Jansky Prize for his leadership in the establishment of precision cosmology through studies of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. Photo courtesy of JHU.

August 15, 2013
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Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Charles L. Bennett has been selected to receive the 2013 Jansky Prize for his leadership in the establishment of precision cosmology through studies of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation.

Bennett, the Alumni Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy and a Gilman Scholar, is the first Johns Hopkins faculty member to receive the honor. The Karl G. Jansky Lectureship was established in 1966 to recognize outstanding contributions in the advancement of radio astronomy.

Bennett’s research is in the area of experimental cosmology, building instruments and telescopes for the observational study of the origin and evolution of the universe. His work studying Cosmic Microwave Background radiation or CMB has brought international recognition. CMB is the afterglow from an early stage of the development of the universe and its presence supports the Big Bang theory of cosmology.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory, an affiliate of the National Science Foundation, sponsors the prestigious award. Previous Jansky Lecturers have been some of the most renowned astrophysicists in the history of the field and include numerous Nobel Prize winners such as Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, William Fowler, Joseph Taylor and Arno Penzias.

“I am delighted to receive this honor,” said Bennett. “To be recognized in this manner by my contemporaries in this field, people I respect and admire, is deeply humbling. It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to address my colleagues at NRAO and the public in a series of lectures on what the universe continues to reveal to us.”

Bennett will present the lectures at NRAO facilities in Charlottesville, Va.; Socorro, N.M; and Green Bank, W.Va. in the next few months.

For the last two decades, Bennett has led the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe or WMAP mission. WMAP was competitively selected by NASA in April 1996, was launched in June 2001, and ended operations in August of 2010. The WMAP mission revolutionized our view of the universe and helped to establish a standard cosmological model that explains a diverse collection of astronomical observations by quantifying the age, content, history and other key properties with an unprecedented level of accuracy and precision.

Bennett is currently building the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor or CLASS, an instrument designed to test the “inflation” theory of the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of the universe. Gravitational waves are generated in the first moments of the universe. These gravitational waves, in turn, leave their imprint in the spatial polarization pattern of the cosmic microwave background. CLASS is designed to search for this pattern polarization. The CLASS instrumentation will be located near the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array Observatory or ALMA, in Chile.

“While we have learned an enormous amount about our universe in just the last few years, pressing questions remain,” said Bennett. “What is dark matter? What is dark energy? What happened in the very first moments of our universe? The scientific community seeks to answer these questions, and here at Johns Hopkins we are hard at work on multiple projects aimed at these most fundamental issues in physics and astronomy.”

Bennett is the recipient of several notable awards and honors throughout his career. Those honors include the 2012 Gruber Cosmology Prize, the 2010 Shaw Prize in Astronomy, the 2009 Comstock Prize in Physics, the 2006 Harvey Prize, and the 2005 Draper medal. He has twice received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal and also received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for WMAP.

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