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April 28, 2009 04:00 PM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2009-20

Space Telescope Science Institute Astrophysicist Elected to National Academy of Sciences

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Space Telescope Science Institute Astrophysicist Elected to National Academy of SciencesView this image

Space Telescope Science Institute Astrophysicist Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Adam Riess was among 72 scientists elected today to membership in the National Academy of Sciences at the organization's 146th annual meeting, held in Washington, D.C.

Riess, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and professor in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, joins 20 other Johns Hopkins faculty members currently in the Academy, an honorary society that advises the government on scientific matters.

An astrophysicist, Riess, 39, was a leader in discovering that dark energy, a mysterious and still unexplained force, is driving the universe to expand at an ever-faster rate, overcoming the effects of gravity. He was first author on a paper published in 1998 by one of two competing groups of scientists that made the discovery; his innovative approach involved comparisons of the "redshift" rate Type Ia supernovas spotted at varying distances from Earth in the farthest reaches of space.

Riess has shared two of cosmology's most prestigious prizes — the 2006 Shaw Prize and the Peter Gruber Foundation's 2007 Cosmology Prize — for this discovery, and last year was named as a winner of one of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's so-called "genius grants."

A 2003 National Academy of Sciences report referred to the nature of dark energy as "the deepest mystery in physics" and said "Its resolution is likely to greatly advance our understanding of matter, space and time."

Riess and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins and at the Space Telescope Science Institute, where Riess has been an astronomer since 1999, are working to learn more using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based experiments. For example, in 2003, under research funded by NASA, Riess announced results from Hubble observations of Type 1a supernovae that suggested that 5 billion years ago, a transition occurred between a time when gravity put the "brakes" on universal expansion and a time when dark energy dominated and began to accelerate the universe's expansion.

"It is with great pleasure and pride, that 'one of our own,' from the Space Telescope Science Institute has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Beyond being the first to publish the extraordinary evidence for an accelerating universe, it was Adam's unique observational insight, using the Hubble Space Telescope that provided the inevitable conclusion that dark energy must be the cause," STScI director Matt Mountain said.

Riess is a 1992 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a master's in 1994 and a PhD in 1996 from Harvard University. He has been a member of the Johns Hopkins faculty since 2006. From 1996 to 1999 — the period during which the dark energy discovery was made — Riess was a Miller Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

"It is a tremendous honor to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. I am deeply humbled," said Riess.


Lisa De Nike
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.

Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.