Johns Hopkins Gazette | May 4, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 4, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 33
Astrophysicist Riess Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Adam Riess
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Lisa De Nike

Adam Riess was among 72 scientists elected last week to membership in the National Academy of Sciences at the organization's 146th annual meeting, held in Washington, D.C.

Riess, a professor in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, joins 20 other Johns Hopkins faculty members currently in the academy, an honorary society that advises the government on scientific matters. Riess also is an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

An astrophysicist, Riess was a leader in discovering that dark energy, a mysterious and still unexplained force, is driving the universe to expand at an ever-faster rate, overcoming the effects of gravity. He was first author on a paper published in 1998 by one of two competing groups of scientists that made the discovery; his innovative approach involved comparisons of the "redshift" of rare Type Ia supernovas spotted at varying distances from Earth in the farthest reaches of space.

Riess has shared two of cosmology's most prestigious prizes — the 2006 Shaw Prize and the Peter Gruber Foundation's 2007 Cosmology Prize — for this discovery, and last year he was a recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, often called a "genius grant."

A 2003 National Academy of Sciences report referred to the nature of dark energy as "the deepest mystery in physics" and said that "its resolution is likely to greatly advance our understanding of matter, space and time."

Riess and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins and at the Space Telescope Science Institute, where Riess has been an astronomer since 1999, are working to learn more using the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based experiments. For example, in 2003 Riess announced results from Hubble observations of Type 1a supernovae, which suggested that 5 billion years ago a transition occurred between a time when gravity put the "brakes" on universal expansion and a time when dark energy dominated and began to accelerate the universe's expansion.

Adam Falk, the James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School, says that Riess' work has done nothing less than "revolutionize" our understanding of the past and future of space and time.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that his discovery of the acceleration of the expansion of the universe was one of the great discoveries of the 20th century," Falk said. "It has completely re- oriented both cosmology and high-energy physics. We are very proud to have Adam at Johns Hopkins."

Riess is a 1992 graduate of MIT and earned a doctorate in 1996 from Harvard. From 1996 to 1999, the period during which the dark energy discovery was made, Riess was a Miller Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. He has been a member of the Johns Hopkins faculty since 2006.

"It is a tremendous honor to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. I am deeply humbled," Riess said.


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