Eiichiro Komatsu shares $500,000 Gruber Cosmology Prize with WMAP satellite team, for fundamental discoveries on the age, make-up, shape, and origin of the universe

New York, N.Y. — The Gruber Foundation and the International Astronomical Union recently announced that the members of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) team, including University of Texas at Austin professor Eiichiro Komatsu, are the recipients of the 2012 Gruber Cosmology Prize. Komatsu is the director of the university's Texas Cosmology Center.

"I am so humbled and honored to share the Gruber prize with the members of the WMAP team, with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the past decade," Komastu said. "It has been an incredible experience to be a part of such a successful experiment which has uncovered the basic properties of the universe. I feel very fortunate to have had an opportunity to be a part of it."

WMAP is a NASA satellite launched in 2001 to take measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the three-Kelvin background radiation left over from the Big Bang. The satellite operated through 2010, and has released multiple datasets over the years.

According to the Gruber Foundation, WMAP's "observations and analyses of ancient light have provided the unprecedentedly rigorous measurements of the age, content, geometry, and origin of the universe that now comprise the Standard Cosmological Model."

The Prize citation recognizes that the exquisite specificity of these results has helped transform cosmology itself from “appealing scenario into precise science.”

The team will receive a $500,000 award, and team leader Charles Bennett of The Johns Hopkins University will receive a gold medal, at the International Astronomical Union meeting in Beijing on August 21.

The team's most recent data release came in 2011, and answered many long-held questions about the nature of the universe, including:

1. The age of the universe: 13.75 billion years (with a margin of error of 1 percent).

2. The make-up of the universe: 22.7 percent dark matter, 72.8 percent dark energy, and only 4.6 percent “ordinary” matter.

3. Early evolution of the universe: seems to have undergone a period of “inflation” in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second of its existence, as many theorists have been predicted.

4. The geometry of the universe: flat, to within less than 1 percent error.

Science magazine awarded WMAP its “Breakthrough of the Year” honor in 2003: “All the arguments of the last few decades about the basic properties of the universe — its age, its expansion rate, its composition, its density — have been settled in one fell swoop.”

The Gruber International Prize Program honors individuals in the fields of Cosmology, Genetics and Neuroscience, whose groundbreaking work provides new models that inspire and enable fundamental shifts in knowledge and culture. The Selection Advisory Boards choose individuals whose contributions in their respective fields advance our knowledge and potentially have a profound impact on our lives.

The Cosmology Prize honors a leading cosmologist, astronomer, astrophysicist or scientific philosopher for theoretical, analytical, conceptual or observational discoveries leading to fundamental advances in our understanding of the universe.

Members of the WMAP team are Chris Barnes, Rachel Bean, Olivier Doré, Joanna Dunkley, Benjamin M. Gold, Michael Greason, Mark Halpern, Robert Hill, Gary F. Hinshaw, Norman Jarosik, Alan Kogut, Eiichiro Komatsu, David Larson, Michele Limon, Stephan S. Meyer, Michael R. Nolta, Nils Odegard, Lyman Page, Hiranya V. Peiris, Kendrick Smith, David N. Spergel, Greg S. Tucker, Licia Verde, Janet L. Weiland, Edward Wollack, and Edward L. (Ned) Wright.


Dr. Eiichiro Komatsu is the Director of the new Texas Center for Cosmology, and an Associate Professor of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. Credit: UT-Austin

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