Friday, July 20, 2007

And the award for the award awarded to the most awardees goes to...

Earlier this week, Robert Quimby, a postdoc here at the University of Texas, received an email informing him that he had won a share of the Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize. After scrutinizing the email to make sure it was not spam, Robert learned a bit more about the award.

The Gruber Foundation is a philanthropic organization that hands out several awards each year in the fields of cosmology, genetics, neuroscience, justice, and women's rights. The foundation has teamed up with the International Astronomical Union to award the cosmology prize each year to groups that have made tremendous impacts upon the field of cosmology.

Unlike the Nobel Prizes, which can only be awarded to individuals (and a maximum of three individuals), the Gruber Prize was awarded to two separate teams, each consisting of dozens of astronomers (a total of 50 astronomers in all!). The teams were able to provide some of the first strong evidence that the rate of expansion of the universe is accelerating, not slowing down as we expected it would be. This observation has been interpreted as "dark energy," or some strange energy that seems to pervade the Universe. We don't know what dark energy is or how it works, but it seems reasonably likely that it exists.

Now, though, comes the "fun" of trying to determine how to use or divide up the prize money. I don't know whether each group will divide up their share or apply it to their respective research projects. Does each astronomer get a share? Does the size of the share depend on their contribution to the team? Frankly, I'm quite happy NOT to be part of that mess.

But, congratulations to both teams, and to Robert, for their award. Their research is certainly deserving of such recognition.

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