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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 7, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 21
JHU Astrophysicist Wins Quadrennial Draper Medal

NAS recognizes his work analyzing age, composition and curvature of universe

By Lisa De Nike

Charles L. Bennett, a professor in the Krieger School's Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy, will be awarded the prestigious Henry Draper Medal on May 2 at the National Academy of Sciences' 142nd annual meeting.

The academy awards the Draper Medal every four years to scientists and individuals who have made significant contributions to astronomical physics. The prize was established in 1886 by the wife of Henry Draper, a prominent amateur scientist and early pioneer of astronomical photography.

The NAS cited Bennett for his work with the Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe, a NASA Explorer mission that is working to precisely determine the age, composition and curvature of the universe.

WMAP measures the temperature of cosmic background radiation, the oldest light in the universe and a remnant of the Big Bang. Using the WMAP satellite, Bennett's team has taken the universe's first-ever, detailed, full-sky "baby picture" in microwave light from 379,000 years after the Big Bang. The microwave light mapped by WMAP has traveled across the universe for more than 13 billion years and now provides a direct picture of what the universe was like then.

"It's as if a photo of a 13-month-old baby was mailed to a relative and got delayed in delivery. Decades later, the relative receives the picture of the now-80-year-old relation!" Bennett said. "Using WMAP, we see what our universe looked like in its infancy, and using instruments such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Hubble Space Telescope, we see how our universe evolved more recently. Combining all that information has revealed the 13.7 billion-year age of the universe and has clearly established that the universe is dominated by a mysterious dark matter and an even more mysterious dark energy. That dark energy is causing the universe to stretch at ever-increasing rates. Determining the nature of that energy is the preeminent problem in physics."

Bennett came to Johns Hopkins on Jan. 1 from his position as a senior scientist for experimental cosmology at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, where the WMAP was built in partnership with Princeton University. He is the third Johns Hopkins scientist to win the Draper Medal. Henry A. Rowland, Johns Hopkins' first physics professor, received the award in 1890, and Robert W. Wood, a professor of experimental physics, won in 1940.

Bennett's research has been funded by NASA.


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