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Monday, March 11, 2013

Last modified: Monday, March 11, 2013

Nobel winner, dark energy explorer Riess presents Konopinski lecture March 19

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MacArthur "genius" grant winner is fifth straight Nobel laureate to offer lecture

March 11, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Adam G. Riess, leader of the team that provided the first direct and published evidence that the expansion of the universe was accelerating and filled with dark energy, will deliver the 23rd Joseph and Sophia Konopinski Memorial Lecture in Physics at Indiana University Bloomington on Tuesday, March 19.

Riess, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, in 2006 shared the $1 million Shaw Prize in Astronomy and a year later shared the $500,000 Gruber Cosmology Prize for his work toward discovering the accelerating universe and the cosmic tug of war between dark energy, which pushes and constrains, with dark matter, which pulls. He is also senior member of the science staff at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which like Johns Hopkins is in Baltimore.

Riess will speak to the public in Whittenberger Auditorium, Indiana Memorial Union, on the IU Bloomington campus at 7:30 p.m., March 19, and will attend an open reception at the IMU University Club immediately after.

"Riess shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for being a leader of one of two teams that discovered that recently the expansion of the universe has been increasing," said Gerardo Ortiz, physics professor and chair of the Konopinski lecture committee. "This amazing and quite unexpected discovery has been termed dark energy, and it turns out to be the dominant piece -- about 70 percent -- of the mass-energy density of the universe. We're extremely excited to have Adam Riess coming to talk and we expect his visit to produce much interest and enthusiasm on campus and around Bloomington."

Riess' talk, entitled "Supernovae and the Discovery of the Accelerating Universe," will review the discovery of the accelerating universe and discuss possible reasons for the mysterious dark energy forces that have surpassed that of dark matter as time progressed.

Science magazine named the accelerating universe discovery the "Breakthrough of the Year" for 1998, and there are now a number of hypotheses as to the origin of this acceleration. Riess is currently leading a program using the Hubble Space Telescope to search for the most distant supernovae ever observed.

Scientists can deduce the rate of acceleration of the universe by observing the properties of distant exploding stars, or supernovae. Beginning in 2002 Riess led the Hubble Higher-z Team to find 25 of the most distant supernovae known with the Hubble Space Telescope, with the work culminating in the first highly significant detection of the preceding, decelerating epoch of the universe. It also helped to confirm the reality of acceleration by disfavoring alternative, astrophysically motivated explanations for the faintness of supernovae.

This work also began characterizing the time-dependent nature of dark energy, which has been identified by NASA as the most significant achievement of the Hubble Space Telescope to date.

IU high energy astrophysicist professor Stuart Mufson said the discovery by Riess' team, and by another team led by Nobel laureate Saul Permutter, solved a cosmological problem that had puzzed astronomers since Edwin Hubble's discovery in 1929 that the universe was expanding.

"These two teams discovered that the brightness of certain types of supernovae, at the peak of their explosions, was so uniform that they could be used to map out the expansion history of the universe since the earliest moments after the Big Bang," Mufson said. "Unexpectedly, and amazingly, these supernovae showed that this universal expansion is not slowing down, as expected, but rather is speeding up. This accelerated expansion can only be explained in a universe dominated by mysterious dark energy."

The Konopinski Lecture Series was endowed in 1990 by a bequest from the late IU physics professor Emil Konopinski, in honor of his parents, Joseph and Sophia Konopinski. Emil Konopinski was a physics professor emeritus at IU who worked with Enrico Fermi on the construction of the first nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago, then went to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in World War II with J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller to begin research on the first atomic bomb. He died in 1990 at the age of 78.

Riess, a 2008 MacArthur "Genius" grant recipient who was elected to the National Academy of Sciences a year later, is the fifth straight Nobel laureate to visit IU Bloomington and present the Konopinski Memorial Lecture.

For more information please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or

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