Dr. Alex Filippenko has been involved with some of the most exciting and impactful observational astronomy studies of the last 30 years. He and his coworkers study the light generated by supernovae in an effort to better understand supernova processes themselves, as well as how to use them as indicators of larger cosmological processes.
In 1998, two teams of researchers—the Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-z Supernova Search Team (Filippenko was a member of both teams)—reported that the light collected from very distant Type Ia supernovae is dimmer (i.e., farther away) than expected. They concluded not only that the universe is expanding, but also that its rate of expansion is increasing. The leaders of the two teams shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics for this ground-breaking discovery. No known entity can explain the universe’s accelerating expansion, and the unidentified culprit behind it has come to be called “dark energy.” It is now estimated that dark energy accounts for about two-thirds of the total matter and energy in the known universe, and its nature is one of the key questions facing modern physics.
Filippenko’s group continues to gather important astronomical benchmark data. Among his current research interests are the nature of gamma ray bursts; the relationship between supermassive black holes and quasars; the search for black holes in binary stars and galactic nuclei; and fundamental questions about the nature of dark energy. His ongoing search for supernovae also led him to develop the robotic Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope (or KAIT), which automatically finds and studies (relatively) nearby supernovae.
Filippenko earned his B.A. in physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara (1979), and his Ph.D. in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology (1984). He then accepted a Miller Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently joined the faculty there. He is now the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences at UC Berkeley. He shared the 2007 Gruber Prize in Cosmology, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and remains one of the most widely cited research astronomers in the world. In addition to his scholarly accolades, Filippenko is widely respected as a teacher and has received a number of teaching awards, including the Carnegie/CASE National Professor of the Year (2006) and the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Richtmeyer Memorial Award (2007).
Please make plans to join us for Nobel Conference 49, “The Universe at its Limits,” on October 1 & 2, to learn more from Professor Filippenko and our other invited speakers about how our understanding of the cosmos continues to evolve. Tickets are on sale now. For information about tickets, the Nobel Conference, or this year’s speakers, please visit gustavus.edu/NobelConference.