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Johns Hopkins University Astrophysicist Shares $3 Million Breakthrough Prize

Honor recognizes researcher’s discovery of “dark energy”

November 10, 2014
CONTACT: Tracey Reeves
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Adam Riess, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University and a Nobel laureate, has been named a recipient of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for the discovery of the acceleration of the universe.

Riess received the award, the most lucrative academic prize in the world, at a ceremony in California on Sunday. He shares the $3 million award with Saul Perlmutter, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and Brian P. Schmidt, of the Australian National University, along with their teams. The three scientists’ years of research found that the universe is expanding quickly rather than slowing down as had been assumed for years.

“I am deeply honored and grateful to have worked with outstanding colleagues and world-class facilities,” said Riess, who is also a research scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Adam Riess, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins, is a Nobel laureate.

The Breakthrough Prize is sponsored by Yuri Milner, a Russian entrepreneur and philanthropist; Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google; Anne Wojcicki, the founder of the genetics company 23andMe; and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. The four innovators established the prize to celebrate the world’s great science and math minds and to generate excitement about the pursuit of the two fields as a career.

The 2nd annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony was held in Silicon Valley. The event was hosted by the actor and comedian Seth McFarlane and co-hosted by the award creators and Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter. Presenters of the awards included the actors, Kate Beckinsale, Cameron Diaz, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Hamm and Eddie Redmayne.

The ceremony will be simulcast by the Discovery Channel and the Science Channel on Nov. 15, in the United States. In addition to the physics honor, prizes were also awarded for life sciences. Breakthrough prizes for mathematics were announced in June.

Riess was joined at the ceremony by Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, who congratulated the scientist’s achievement.

“The Breakthrough Prize helps to build excitement and energy around scientific discovery, and I am delighted that this year’s committee chose to recognize Adam Riess,” Daniels said. “His work, which helped to change our very understanding of the universe, has inspired a spectrum of scientists, from colleagues working with the Hubble Space Telescope to young astronomers, stargazing in their backyards. We are honored that Adam is part of our Johns Hopkins community, and join in the celebration of this wonderful honor.”

Riess is the second Johns Hopkins scientist to win the prize. Last year, Bert Vogelstein, a professor of oncology and pathology at Johns Hopkins and a pioneer in the field of cancer genomics, received the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for his discovery of a protein that suppress the growth of tumors. Vogelstein’s prize also recognized a model he devised for the progression of colon cancer that is widely used in colonoscopies.

The Breakthrough Prize is one of several prestigious awards that Riess has received in recent years. In 2011, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his leadership in the High-z Supernova Search Team’s 1998 discovery that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating, a phenomenon widely attributed to a mysterious, unexplained “dark energy” filling the universe. He shared the prize with Perlmutter and Schmidt. Both teams also shared the Peter Gruber Foundation’s 2007 Cosmology Prize for the discovery of dark energy, and the 2006 Shaw Prize in astronomy for the same discovery. Overall, 50 astronomers will share a piece of the $3 million prize announced Sunday, with each of the two teams splitting $1.5 million.


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