Introduction of Brian Schmidt’s lecture: “The Accelerating Universe”

Whittenberger Auditorium
Indiana Memorial Union
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


Thank you, David [Zaret]. On behalf of Indiana University, I want to welcome all of you to today’s lecture by our distinguished guest, one of the world’s most eminent astrophysicists, Nobel laureate and President and Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Brian P. Schmidt.

Introducing Brian P. Schmidt

Born in Missoula, Montana, President Schmidt was raised in a number of locations in the western United States, including Montana and Alaska. At an early age, he gained a deep appreciation of nature and a love for science from his father, who was a fisheries biologist.

President Schmidt earned undergraduate degrees in Astronomy and Physics from the University of Arizona, and earned master's and doctoral degrees in Astronomy from Harvard.

In 1994, while serving as a postdoctoral research associate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, President Schmidt formed the High-Z Supernova Search Team with a number of collaborators around the world. This project, which used Type 1a supernovae to chart the expansion of the universe, grew to include around 20 astronomers in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Chile.

In 1998, the High-Z team became the first to publish evidence that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating—a finding that has been regarded as one of the most important astronomical discoveries in scientific history. Science magazine cited this discovery as the “Breakthrough of the Year.”1

In 2006, President Schmidt, along with his fellow High-Z team member, Adam Riess, and Saul Perlmutter of the Supernova Cosmology Project, received the Shaw Prize—often referred to as the “Nobel of the East”—for this work. Professor Perlmutter and the Supernova Cosmology Project at the University of California-Berkeley made the same discovery of the universe’s accelerating expansion at virtually the same time as the High-Z team. The two groups announced their results within weeks of each other.

In 2011, of course, Professors Schmidt, Riess, and Perlmutter were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. At that time, theoretical physicist Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton called the discovery that the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating and the implied existence of dark energy “the most startling discovery in physics” since he had been in the field, and one that “changed the way physicists look at the universe.2

At the end of 1994, shortly after founding the High-Z team, President Schmidt began a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Mount Stromlo Observatory, which is part of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at my alma mater, the Australian National University. That later turned into a tenured faculty position. In fact, we first met when we were both at ANU at the same time just before I left for IU.

President Schmidt is Australian by marriage and holds dual citizenship of Australia and the United States, as do I. His wife, Jennifer Gordon, is a distinguished Australian economist. The two of them met while both were earning doctoral degrees at Harvard.

President Schmidt has had a distinguished career at ANU for more than 20 years, during which he has led not only the High-Z team, but also the SkyMapper telescope project and the associated Southern Sky Survey, a comprehensive digital survey of the entire southern sky.

Last year, he was selected to lead ANU as its 12th president. He took office in January of this year. ANU Chancellor and former foreign minister, Gareth Evans, also a recent visitor to IU, called President Schmidt’s selection as president “an inspired choice,” praising his policy knowledge, vision, energy, communication and advocacy skills, stellar IQ, charisma, dynamism, and collaborative zeal that comes from leading large research teams of smart, complicated people.3

President Schmidt is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, The United States National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society, he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2013.

President Schmidt is also the world’s only Nobel-winning winemaker. He and his wife own and operate Maipenrai, a small vineyard and winery near Canberra, Australia. In fact, he presented King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden with a bottle of wine from his vineyard at the 2011 Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm.

We are honored to have him with us today to speak on “The Accelerating Universe."

Please join me in welcoming the recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics and the President and Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Brian P. Schmidt.

Source notes

  1. Floyd E. Bloom, “Breakthroughs 1998,” Science, December 18, 1998, Volume 282, Issue 5397, 2193.
  2. Edward Witten, as quoted in Dennis Overbye, “Studies of Universe’s Expansion Win Physics Nobel,” The New York Times, October 4, 2011.
  3. Gareth Evans, as quoted in Kate Legge, “Brian Schmidt: ANU Vice Chancellor, Nobel Laureate, Cosmologist,” The Weekend Australian, March 12, 2016.