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Nobel Laureate Kicks Off New Lecture Series

Brian Schmidt

Brian Schmidt. Photo by Dr. Tim Wetherell.

The Institute for Astronomy and the Sheraton Waikiki launched a new lecture series on June 7 at Kennedy Theatre on the University of Hawai‘i Mānoa campus. The Sheraton Waikiki Explorers of the Universe lecture series will be presented two or three times each year and will feature Nobel-laureate-level speakers. All lectures will be free and open to the public.

The first lecture featured Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt speaking on “The Accelerating Universe.” Schmidt gave an outstanding presentation. He made difficult material understandable for the nonastronomers in the audience. During the lecture, he acknowledged IfA astronomer John Tonry, who was a member of the team that received the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. Tonry was in Stockholm with Schmidt and his team when the award was presented.

IfA has long been active in outreach and youth education. It was exciting to see the number of intermediate and high school students in the audience. Several were even brave enough to ask questions during the question-and-answer session that followed the lecture.

The sponsorship of the lecture series is the first for the Sheraton Waikiki. “We are so excited to partner with the Institute for Astronomy and to bring the latest developments in astronomy to the people of Hawai‘i and our hotel guests. We see this collaboration as an investment in IfA and the University of Hawai‘i,” said Kelly Sanders, Sheraton Waikiki general manager.

Schmidt shared the Nobel prize with Adam Riess, also a member of Schmidt’s High-Redshift Supernova Search Team, and Saul Perlmutter, a leader of a competing team studying the same phenomenon. In 1998, both teams used distant exploding stars to trace the expansion of the Universe back over billions of years and discovered—to their surprise—that this expansion is accelerating, which suggests that more than 70 percent of the cosmos is contained in a previously unknown form of mass/energy called “dark energy.” During his lecture, Schmidt described this discovery and explained how astronomers have used observations to track our Universe’s history back more than 13 billion years, leading them to ponder the ultimate fate of the cosmos.

Raised in Montana and Alaska, Schmidt received undergraduate degrees in physics and astronomy from the University of Arizona in 1989, and a PhD in astronomy from Harvard University in 1993. He joined the staff of the Australian National University in 1995, and is now a laureate fellow at the ANU’s Mount Stromlo Observatory.

Schmidt is continuing to use exploding stars to study the Universe, and is leading Mount Stromlo’s effort to build the SkyMapper telescope, which will provide a comprehensive digital map of the Southern sky from ultraviolet through near-infrared wavelengths.