Hello from England! Last night was the award ceremony for the 2007 Gruber Prizer in Cosmology. It was good to meet up with the members of the SCP again, many of whom I haven’t seen in several years. Picture below is the members of the collaboration who were present, underneath one of the many trees labelled as “Newton’s Apple Tree” in the UK; this one is at Trinity college, and apparently is a descendant of the original tree from the apocryphal story about the apple falling on Newton’s head. Here we are all looking for apples of our own, but evidently these apples are made of dark energy and as such are not falling into gravitational potential wells….
At the awards ceremony, a number of people spoke. I want to comment on three things that people said. First, Jim Peebles, one of the previous winners of this award, thanked the awardees for two things. First, for solving one problem: the mass density of the Universe, and fixing the cosmological “age crisis” through the measurement of a positive cosmological constant. Second, for the introduction of a new conundrum: just what is this cosmological constant or dark energy stuff? There’s nothing scientists like better than a good conundrum.
The two individual winners of the award, Saul Perlmutter and Brian Schmidt, each spoke, and each had similar themes to what they said. Saul started by noting that there is this popular image of the lone scientist working on brilliant discoveries all himself, but often it doesn’t work that way. He then went through a serious of snapshot images he has in his head of the process of discovering the acceleration of the Universe, mentioning the names of each of the rest of his team who were present. (About me, he said that I type and program faster than he talks… and if you’ve heard Saul talk, that’s saying something!)
Brian Schmidt, likewise, came up and said that he wasn’t speaking for him, but he was speaking as the representative of the High-Z team. He said that a lot of the problems that are present in science today can not besolved be individuals, despite the fact that many prizes are still given to individuals. Rather, they are solved by teams.
It is significant to me that half of this award went to not individuals, but to the teams of which Saul and Brian were leaders. There were many, many contributions all worthy of recognition.
If I were more cynical I might say that Saul and Brian were just saying what they were supposed to say, facing the fact that about 1/3 of the people in the audience were the other team members…. However, I am not that cynical. I really believe that what Saul and Brian said was heartfelt. I appreciate both of them and the Gruber Foundation for so publically recognizing that this discovery did require teams, and that those teams were worth of honor.
I close with just one picture from the dinner later last evening. Alex Kim, who is pictured, was a graduate student at UC Berkeley when I and Peter Nugent arrived as post-docs in 1996. Ironically, Alex Kim defended his thesis in late 1996, but both Peter and I defended our theses in early spring 1997… for a while, the post-docs didn’t exactly yet have their PhDs, but the grad student did! You can see that Alex (now a permanent staff member at LBNL, after a stint as a post-doc in Paris) has done well, for he seems to have located a new standard candle….
Photograph by Nelson Nunes