He received the first ever Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year in 2000, then the Shaw Prize in Astronomy in 2006, the Gruber Cosmology Prize in 2007 and the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011—it’s been a satisfying progression for Brian Schmidt, professor of astronomy at the Australian National University, and for Australian science. Schmidt led one of two research teams that determined that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.
But winning awards does not mean he’s resting on his laurels. Apart from countless invitations to speak, Brian has his hands full with commissioning SkyMapper, a new optical telescope equipped with Australia’s largest digital camera at 268 megapixels. And he’s also involved in two significant new facilities pioneering technology to be used in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope: the Murchison Widefield Array and the Australian SKA Pathfinder. And in his spare time, he’s working on one of the next generation of optical telescopes, the Giant Magellan Telescope.
After it smooths out teething problems with vibrations, the fully-automated SkyMapper at Siding Spring Observatory in central northern New South Wales will begin a survey of the southern sky measuring the shape, brightness and spectral type of more than a billion stars and galaxies, down to a million times fainter than the eye can see. This information will give Australian astronomers an edge when bidding for observing time on the world’s most important telescopes.
Brian is grateful for the acknowledgement that his work he has received in Australia. “The Malcolm McIntosh Prize was the first award I received for my work on the accelerating Universe,” he says. “It is a sign of the nation’s confidence—and important to me—that my home country was able to recognise my part in this discovery first.”