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Professor invited to Nobel Prize ceremony

Dan Brombach | Friday, October 28, 2011

For Notre Dame Astrophysics Professor Peter Garnavich, a telephone call at 5:00 a.m. was a dream come true.

Over the line, his wife informed him that his scientific teammates had just won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics. Garnavich’s colleagues Brian Schmidt, Adam Riess and Saul Perlmutter will receive the prize for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae.

Garnavich will support his fellow researchers at the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony on Dec. 10 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Garnavich is one of 20 members of the High-Z Supernova Search Team led by Schmidt. Garnavich said he has always felt that he and his team were capable of winning the prize, but he was surprised at just how quickly this was accomplished.

“It was really a pleasant surprise because it has only been 13 years since we made our findings,” Garnavich said.  “Some people wait 30 or more years before their work is rewarded … I think this really reflects the importance of our discovery.”

According to a ND Newswire article, Garnavich and the rest of his team will receive the prize based on their 1994 study that proves the universe’s expansion is accelerating.  

“Using supernovae, we were able to get a pretty good number on how fast the universe was changing its rate of expansion,” Garnavich said.  “To everybody’s surprise, the rate of expansion was increasing.”

Although Garnavich is being honored, he will not directly receive the prize due to a long-standing Nobel Prize tradition.

“By tradition, the Nobel Prize is given to only three people at a time,” Garnavich said.  “This tradition stems from a time when science was done primarily by individuals alone in their labs.  Science nowadays is done more and more in groups, but the Nobel Prize committee really hasn’t kept up with this change.”

Garnavich’s teammates, Australian National professor Brian Schmidt; Johns Hopkins professor Adam Riess and Universtiy of California, Berkeley, professor Saul Perlmutter, will receive the award directly.

Nonetheless, Garnavich said he is excited to represent Notre Dame at the ceremony, and he hopes the publicity the event attracts will benefit the science program at the University.

“Professors and grad students are doing excellent scientific research here at Notre Dame, but this is often not recognized as much as it should be,” Garnavich said.  “I hope that by attending the Nobel Prize award ceremony, I’ll be able to really enhance the view of scientific research here at ND.”