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Brian Schmidt

This article is about the astrophysicist. For the music composer, see Brian L. Schmidt. For the ice hockey player, see Bryan Schmidt.
Brian Schmidt
File:Brian Schmidt.jpg
Schmidt at the 2012 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
Born Brian P. Schmidt
(1967-02-24) February 24, 1967 (age 53)
Missoula, Montana, United States
Nationality Australia and United States[1]
Institutions Australian National University
Alma mater University of Arizona (1989), Harvard University (1993)
Doctoral advisor Template:If empty
Notable awards Pawsey Medal (2001)
Shaw Prize in Astronomy (2006)
Nobel Prize in Physics (2011)
Dirac Medal (2012)
Spouse Jennifer M. Gordon
"FACTBOX-Nobel physics prize winners", Reuters News, 4 October 2011.

Brian Paul Schmidt AC, FRS, FAA (born February 24, 1967) is a Distinguished Professor, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and astrophysicist at The Australian National University's Mount Stromlo Observatory and Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics and is known for his research in using supernovae as cosmological probes. He currently holds an Australia Research Council Federation Fellowship and was elected to the Royal Society in 2012.[2] Schmidt shared both the 2006 Shaw Prize in Astronomy and the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics with Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess for providing evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, making him the only Montana-born Nobel laureate.

Early life and education

File:Nobel BrianSchmidt 2011-12-08.ogv
Interview with Brian Schmidt after his Nobel lecture

Schmidt, an only child, was born on February 24, 1967, in Missoula, Montana, where his father Dana C. Schmidt was a fisheries biologist. When he was 13, his family relocated to Anchorage, Alaska.[3][4]

Schmidt attended Bartlett High School in Anchorage, Alaska, and graduated in 1985. He has said that he wanted to be a meteorologist "since I was about five-years-old [but] ... I did some work at the USA National Weather Service up in Anchorage and didn't enjoy it very much. It was less scientific, not as exciting as I thought it would be—there was a lot of routine. But I guess I was just a little naive about what being a meteorologist meant." His decision to study astronomy, which he had seen as "a minor pastime", was made just before he enrolled at university.[5] Even then, he was not fully committed: he said "I'll do astronomy and change into something else later," and just never made that change.[6]

He earned his BS (Physics) and BS (Astronomy) from the University of Arizona in 1989.[7] He received his MA (Astronomy) in 1992 and then PhD (Astronomy) in 1993 from Harvard University.[8] Schmidt's PhD thesis was supervised by Robert Kirshner and used Type II Supernovae to measure the Hubble Constant.

At Harvard, he met his future wife, the Australian (Jenny) Jennifer M. Gordon who was a PhD student in economics. In 1994, he moved to Australia.[3][7]


Schmidt was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (1993–1994) before moving on to the ANU's Mount Stromlo Observatory in 1995.

In 1994, Schmidt and Nicholas B. Suntzeff formed the High-Z Supernova Search Team to measure the expected deceleration of the Universe and the deceleration parameter (q0) using distances to Type Ia supernovae. In 1995, the HZT at a meeting at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics elected Schmidt as the overall leader of the HZT. Schmidt led the team from Australia and in 1998 in the HZT paper with first author Adam Riess the first evidence was presented that the Universe's expansion rate is not decelerating; it is accelerating.[9] The team's observations were contrary to the then-current models, which predicted that the expansion of the Universe should be slowing down, and when the preliminary results emerged Schmidt assumed it was an error and he spent the next six weeks trying to find the mistake.[10] But there was no mistake: contrary to expectations, by monitoring the brightness and measuring the redshift of the supernovae, they discovered that these billion-year old exploding stars and their galaxies were accelerating away from our reference frame.[11] This result was also found nearly simultaneously by the Supernova Cosmology Project, led by Saul Perlmutter.[11] The corroborating evidence between the two competing studies led to the acceptance of the accelerating universe theory and initiated new research to understand the nature of the universe, such as the existence of dark energy.[11] The discovery of the accelerating universe was named 'Breakthrough of the Year' by Science in 1998, and Schmidt was jointly awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics along with Reiss and Perlmutter for their groundbreaking work.[11]

Schmidt is currently leading the SkyMapper telescope Project and the associated Southern Sky Survey, which will encompass billions of individual objects, enabling the team to pick out the most unusual objects. In 2014 they announced the discovery of the first star which did not contain any iron, indicating that it is a very primitive star, probably formed during the first rush of star formation following the Big Bang.[12]

He is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Astronomy Australia Limited.[13] In July 2012 Schmidt was given a three-year appointment to sit on the Questacon Advisory Council.[14]


Saul Perlmutter, Adam Riess, and Brian Schmidt being awarded the 2006 Shaw Prize in Astronomy. The trio would later be awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Schmidt has received the Australian Government's inaugural Malcolm McIntosh Prize for achievement in the Physical Sciences in 2000, Harvard University's Bok Prize in 2000, the Australian Academy of Science's Pawsey Medal Medal in 2001, and the Astronomical Society of India's Vainu Bappu Medal in 2002. He was the Marc Aaronson Memorial Lecturer in 2005, the same year he received an ARC Federation Fellowship,[15] and in 2006 he shared the Shaw Prize in Astronomy with Adam Riess and Saul Perlmutter.[16][17][18]

Schmidt and the other members of the High-Z Team (the set defined by the co-authors of Riess et al. 1998) shared the 2007 Gruber Cosmology Prize, a $500,000 award, with Saul Perlmutter of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Supernova Cosmology Project (the set defined by the co-authors of Perlmutter et al. 1999) for their discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe.

Schmidt, along with Riess and Perlmutter, jointly won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for their observations which led to the discovery of the accelerating Universe.[16][19]

Schmidt was named "Australian of the Year" for 2011,[20] and he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in the 2013 Australia Day Honours.[21] He is a Fellow and council member of the Australian Academy of Science, The United States National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, and Foreign Member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences.[15][22]

Schmidt, Adam Riess, and the High-Z Supernova Search Team shared in the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.[23]

Other activities

Vineyard and winery

Schmidt and his wife (Jennifer Gordon, PhD) own and operate Maipenrai Vineyard and Winery, a small winery established in 2000 in Sutton, near Canberra, which was rated a four-star winery by the James Halliday Australian Wine Companion.[24] The vineyard covers Script error: No such module "convert"., producing exclusively pinot noir grapes, and the wines have received favourable reviews. For example, Chris Shanahan described the 2010 vintage as "a successful wine and a pleasure to drink...Maipenrai offering bright, deep fruit flavours ... [with] a juicy texture, a touch of oak pushing through and a teasing, biting savoury element adding to the excitement."[25] To add to the wine's inherent qualities, Schmidt also quips that "it's easier to sell your wine when you have a Nobel prize".[26] At the 2011 Nobel Prize Ceremonies in Stockholm, he presented the King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden with a bottle of wine from his winery.[citation needed]

In 2013, Schmidt was appointed to join the board of the federal government's Australian Wine Research Institute. The Institute's chairman Peter Dawson commented that Schmidt brings to the board "a unique combination of scientific excellence, wine industry knowledge and relevant board experience".[27]


The publicity that came with winning the Nobel Prize has given Schmidt the opportunity to help the public understand why science is important to society, and to champion associated causes.[10][12]

Public education
One of his first acts after winning the Nobel Prize was to donate $100,000 out of his prize money to the PrimaryConnections program, an initiative of the Australian Academy of Science that assists primary school teachers.[20][28] He has continued to press for improvements to the public school system, particularly in the sciences and mathematical literacy (numeracy).[29] He sees the major problem is that so few of the teachers are trained in "STEM" (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.[12] He used the opportunity of delivering a speech at the National Press Club to call for more focus on the public education system, including holding principals more accountable and the proper use of standardized testing, concluding with the warning that otherwise "the fundamental tenant of Australian democracy, that we all deserve a fair go, is at risk of being eroded away along with our public school system."[30] At the other end of the spectrum, he also raises the profile of the matter by visiting primary schools personally to answer children's questions.[31]
Funding for scientific and medical research
Schmidt is a strong supporter of funding scientific and medical research on a long-term, non-partisan basis driven by a national research strategy.[32] He has often voiced his concern that the current year-to-year uncertainty and lack of co-ordination make it difficult to establish and staff large facilities, or to participate in multi-national ventures, and that scientists spend too much time applying for funding instead of doing research.[33][34] Interviewed by the Australian Financial Review, Schmidt was characteristically forthright: "It's unclear to me whether or not we will continue to be a great astronomy nation... If we're damaged it will take 20 years to fix ourselves. It only takes one year to cause 20 years of damage."[35]
Climate change
He urges people to pay attention to the consensus of expert opinions, instead of basing their conclusions on the incomplete information which they personally know. Launching the Australian Academy of Science's report "The science of climate change: questions and answers", Schmidt commented that "Whenever this subject comes up, it never ceases to amaze me how each person I meet suddenly becomes an expert... More surprising is the supreme confidence that non-experts (scientists and non-scientists alike) have in their own understanding of the subject."[22] He even put up $10,000 of his own money in a bet with Maurice Newman, who is the chairman of the Prime Minister's Business Council, that global temperatures will rise.[36]

Personal life

Schmidt is married to Jennifer Gordon, PhD. They met while they were both studying for their PhDs at Harvard - he in Astrophysics and she in Economics. They decided to settle in Australia, which he had already visited on several occasions to visit family. He now holds dual citizenship of both Australia and the United States.[6]

Schmidt also enjoys cooking.[3]

He is not religious, being described as a "militant agnostic" with his tagline, "I don't know, and neither do you!"[37]

See also


  1. ^ "The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics - Press Release". 
  2. ^ "Professor Brian Schmidt FRS". 
  3. ^ a b c Restless experimenter The Canberra Times, 6 April 2011, p 8.
  4. ^ "FACTBOX-Nobel physics prize winners", Reuters News, 4 October 2011.
  5. ^ "Star turn in global success", The Canberra Times, 1 July 2006, p B02.
  6. ^ a b Attard, Monica (5 August 2007). "Mr Universe: astronomer, Dr Brian Schmidt.". ABC News. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "SCHMIDT, Brian" in Who's Who Live (Australia), Crown Content Pty Ltd accessed 4 October 2011.
  8. ^ The Universe from Beginning to End, Pollock Memorial Lecture, April 2009, The University of Sydney accessed 5 October 2011.
  9. ^ Cosmology ABC Catalyst segment on Cosmology, with Brian Schmidt, Ray Norris, & Lawrence Krauss
  10. ^ a b Moskowitz, Clara (22 December 2011). "Our Strange Universe: Q&A With Nobel Prize Winner Brian Schmidt". Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c d Palmer, Jason (2011-10-04). "Nobel physics prize honours accelerating Universe find". BBC. Retrieved 2011-10-05. 
  12. ^ a b c Levine, Alaina G. (2 September 2014). "Quantum Correlations: Interview With Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt at ESOF on Success, Europe, Women in STEM, War and ET". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2 April 2015. 
  13. ^ "Astronomy Australia Limited - People". 
  14. ^ "STAFF, MANAGEMENT AND COUNCIL". Questacon. Archived from the original on 13 March 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  15. ^ a b "Brian Schmidt". Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  16. ^ a b "Nobel physics prize honours accelerating Universe find". BBC News. October 4, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Australian Astrophysicist Wins Nobel Prize". ABC News. 5 October 2011. 
  18. ^ O'Keefe, Brendan (18 July 2007). "Breakthrough keeps reaping rewards". The Australian. p. 23. 
  19. ^ "Brian P. Schmidt - Facts". Nobel Media AB. Retrieved 13 March 2015. for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae 
  20. ^ a b "Brian Schmidt: an Aussie expanding the universe". The Australian. 21 January 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  21. ^ "Extract for SCHMIDT, Brian Paul". It's an Honour: Australia celebrating Australians. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 6 January 2015. For eminent service as a global science leader in the field of physics through research in the study of astronomy and astrophysics, contributions to scientific bodies and the promotion of science education. 
  22. ^ a b Schmidt, Brian (16 February 2015). "Jury in on climate change, so stop using arguments of convenience and listen to experts". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  23. ^ "ANU Nobel Prize laureate Brian Schmidt receives new science honour". ABC News. 11 November 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  24. ^ "Maipenrai Vineyard and Winery". 
  25. ^ Shanahan, Chris (30 January 2013). "Wine review — Dandelion, Maipenrai, Moss Wood, Punt Road, Penny’s Hill and Hartz Barn". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  26. ^ Robinson, Jancis (5 May 2012). "Brian Schmidt, star vigneron". Retrieved 25 February 2015. article also published in the Financial Times. 
  27. ^ Lawson, Kirsten (18 December 2013). "Brian Schmidt joins Australian Wine Research Institute". Good Food (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  28. ^ Smith, Deborah (18 February 2012). "Primary colours of Nobel scientist". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  29. ^ Schmidt, Brian (8 February 2012). "Speech: Brian Schmidt's mathematical argument". The Australian. Retrieved 19 March 2015. He delivered this speech at the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute forum in Canberra on Tuesday 7 February. 
  30. ^ Westcott, Ben (23 May 2014). "Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt calls for public school renaissance". Canberra Times (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  31. ^ Warden, Ian (5 August 2014). "Gang-gang. The Life of Brian Schmidt". Canberra Times (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  32. ^ Robertson, James (18 June 2013). "Scientists desperately seeking certainty". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 28 March 2015. many of the country's science and medical research sectors... could not plan their future direction because of stop-start funding and a poorly co-ordinated approach to research. 
  33. ^ Phillips, Nicky (24 July 2014). "Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt fires broadside at Australia's research strategy". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  34. ^ Schmidt, Brian (10 March 2014). "Let’s bust out of the endless loop, says Brian Schmidt". Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  35. ^ Hyland, Anne (24 January 2015). "How ignoring science damns our economy". Australian Financial Review. (subscription required (help)). , cited in "'This is just insanity': four Nobel laureates let fly over Australian science funding". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). 30 January 2015. Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  36. ^ Hare, Julie (16 January 2014). "Nobel scientist willing to bet on global warming". The Australian. Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  37. ^ Schmidt, Brian (23 December 2009). "Very different paths to God: Seeking truth in the heavens". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 April 2015. 


External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics
with Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess

Succeeded by
Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland

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