Alumnus Wins Nobel

Adam Riess ‘92 shares prize for physics

In October, Adam Riess ‘92 learned that he had won a share of the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics for his observations of distant supernovas, which helped reveal that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

Riess, now a professor of astronomy and physics at Johns Hopkins University, shared the prize with Brian Schmidt and Saul Perlmutter, who each headed research teams that presented evidence of the phenomenon in 1998. Riess was part of Schmidt’s international High-z Supernova Search Team.

For almost a century, the universe had been known to be expanding. However, the discovery that this expansion is accelerating was “astounding,” according to the Nobel committee.

Riess, Perlmutter, and Schmidt also shared the $1 million Shaw Prize in Astronomy for the discovery in 2006. Riess, who was born in Washington, D.C., earned his PhD from Harvard in 1996 and was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008.

Riess is the 77th MIT-connected person to win a Nobel. On October 20 he gave a talk at MIT on his work—an event that had been scheduled before the prizes were announced.

“It was really exciting and a tremendous honor. It’s every student’s dream to come back to their alma mater and give a lecture to their professors, especially after winning the Nobel Prize,” he says. “That was a lot of fun.”

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