Photo: SDSU News Center
November 22, 2014 (Mt. Laguna)—At first, astronomer Robert Quimby almost deleted an e-mail which began, “Congratulations, you have won $33,000.” Then the director of San Diego State University’s Mount Laguna Observatory read further and learned that the money is real—his share of a $3 million prize for his research that helped prove expansion of the universe is accelerating.
The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics honors Quimby for his share of the investigation, which began 15 years ago when he was an undergraduate research assistant working on the Supernova Cosmology Project along with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter, who shared a Nobel Prize in physics for the project’s landmark discoveries back in 2011.
Quimby applied data collected from light emitted by distant supernovae and calculated two variables: omega matter, which measures average density of the universe; and omega lambda, measuring inflation of the universe.
His research helped disprove the long-held theory that the universe’s expansion had been slowing down since the Big Bang. Instead, the data showed that expansion of our universe is speeding up—though why this is occurring remains a mystery waiting to be solved.
Quimby said of his findings, “It turned out to be bigger than I could have imagined.”