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Copywrite 2001-2004, California Science Center
Media Contact:  Paula Wagner, Calofornia Science Center
(213) 744-7446
Jill Perry, California Institute of Technology
(626) 395-3226
Dan Krotz,
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
(510) 486-4019
May 1, 2003
Two Astrophysicists Chosen to Share Award as 2003 California Scientist of the Year
Andrew Lange, Ph.D.
Saul Perlmutter, Ph.D.

Los Angeles, CA - The California Science Center has announced the selection of Andrew Lange, Ph.D. and Saul Perlmutter, Ph.D. as co-winners of the 2003 California Scientist of the Year. Dr. Lange is Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and Dr. Perlmutter is Senior Scientist and Group Leader at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley. Using two very different techniques, Lange and Perlmutter’s experimental efforts have confirmed a remarkable theory of how the universe expanded and evolved after “the big bang.” The two astrophysicists will be recognized during the annual presentation of the California Scientist of the Year and Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence, a special event to honor excellence in scientific achievement and education on May 8, 2003 at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, Los Angeles.

The California Science Center established the California Scientist of the Year Award in recognition of the prominent role California plays in the areas of scientific and technological development. A blue-ribbon panel selects a nominee whose work is current and advances the boundaries of any field of science. Of those selected, eleven have earned the California Scientist of the Year honors before becoming Nobel Laureates. The panel concluded that Lange and Perlmutter’s discoveries compliment each other so well in revealing the nature of the universe that both scientists should be recognized this year.

According to the most widely held theory of cosmic evolution, the universe went though an inflationary phase where its size rapidly increased and where the universe’s geometrical structure took on a very specific form: parallel lines never meet, the sum of the angles inside an astronomically sized triangle add to 180?. Scientists refer to this particular form of geometry as being mathematically “flat.” According to General Relativity, a mathematically flat universe places constraints on the amount of mass and energy in the universe. Unfortunately, astronomers could not account for the requisite mass and energy. Therefore, either the standard cosmological or “big bang” theory was incorrect and the universe’s geometrical structure was not that of Euclid, or the astronomers were missing something important.

Dr. Lange studies fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, a relic of the primeval “fireball” that filled the early universe. These signals, which are visible today at microwave frequencies, provide a clear “snapshot” of the embryonic universe, at an epoch long before the first stars or galaxies had formed. In general, this radiation reaches the earth uniformly from all directions in the sky. However, at the level of 0.003% there is an intricate pattern of fluctuations in the CMB. Using novel detectors developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and flown on a balloon-borne telescope high above Antarctica, Dr. Lange’s group was able to make the first resolved images of these very faint patterns. The images demonstrate that the radiation fluctuates on an angular scale of one degree, which is exactly what scientists expected from a mathematically flat universe.

Since the 1930s, scientists have known that galaxies are all moving away from one another, and there has been a concerted effort to study the rate of this expansion. Prior to Perlmutter’s efforts, almost all astronomers expected that the expansion of the universe was slowing, due to the gravitational attraction of galaxies and other matter. However, Perlmutter’s group found that the universe is actually expanding at an accelerating rate, as if a “negative pressure” was pushing everything apart. This negative pressure may be what scientists call the cosmological constant, first hypothesized by Albert Einstein in an attempt to prescribe a stable universe but later rejected by him. Perlmutter’s estimates of the cosmological constant’s magnitude are consistent with Lange’s observations of a flat universe.

Lange’s work demonstrates that the universe is mathematically flat, and that the standard cosmological theory is correct, while Perlmutter’s work indicates that the source of astronomical energy giving rise to a flat universe comes from a type of negative gravitational pressure or dark energy permeating the universe. The nature of this dark energy remains a mystery.

Note to Editors: The California Science Center is located at 700 State Drive, in historic Exposition Park, Los Angeles. Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission to the Science Center exhibits is free. Exception: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit, on display now through Sept. 1, 2003. Ticket prices range from $4.50 to $9.50 and can be purchased in advance through Ticketmaster. IMAX Theater tickets vary in price from $4.50 to $7.50. Phone (213) 744-2019 for advance ticket purchase or group discounts. Both the Science Center and IMAX Theater are wheelchair accessible. Parking is $6 per car – enter the visitor lot at 39th and Figueroa Street. For general information, including directions, phone (323) SCI-ENCE or visit our web site at www.casciencectr.org.

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