Bottom Line
September 3, 2010  |  by Michael Anft

$333,333.33: The amount Chuck Bennett received as one of three winners of the $1 million Shaw Prize for excellence in science. Bennett, a professor of physics and astronomy in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, split the loot with two Princeton faculty, physicist Lyman A. Page Jr. and astronomer David N. Spergel. The trio was honored with the prize, created by centenarian Hong Kong media magnate Run Run Shaw, for their work in pinpointing the age and makeup of the universe. “I’ll pay off some debts and give some of it to charity,” Bennett says of his winnings. “About half of it will go to my favorite charity—the U.S. government.”

Seven years ago, Bennett and several others shook science by reporting that measurements of cosmic microwave radiation—the remnants of the oldest light in the universe—dated the universe at 13.7 billion years, and quantified The Great Beyond as only 5 percent atoms, the rest consisting of shadowy forces and bits called dark energy and dark matter. Their ongoing research into the origins of the universe remains popular among scientists. Two papers Bennett and his group published became the most read scientific journal articles in 2009. Now, Bennett is using a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build a telescope in Chile that will determine why the universe became astronomically large. “To find that out, we’ll have to detect gravitational waves that might be responsible for the universe’s inflation,” he says. “It’s all about finding out what happened in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second.”

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