MPA News

Breakthrough Prize for WMAP

December 03, 2017

The WMAP science team has received the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for detailed maps of the early universe that greatly improved our knowledge of the evolution of the cosmos and the fluctuations that seeded the formation of galaxies. The prize will be shared among the entire 27-member WMAP science team including Eiichiro Komatsu, director at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching.

Image of the Cosmic Microwave Background created from nine years of WMAP data. Zoom Image
Image of the Cosmic Microwave Background created from nine years of WMAP data.

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) was a NASA Explorer mission launched in 2001 (and operating until 2010) to measure the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the “echo” of the Big Bang. The properties of this radiation contain a wealth of information about physical conditions in the early universe. WMAP determined, to a high degree of accuracy and precision, not only the age of the universe, but also the density of atoms; the density of the so-called Dark Matter; the epoch when the first stars started to shine; the "lumpiness" of the universe, and how that "lumpiness" depends on scale size.

WMAP observations also provided the strongest support ever for the so-called theory of "inflation", in which the Universe underwent an exponential expansion in the first tiny fractions of a second.  Eiichiro Komatsu, who is now director at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, performed stringent tests of the key predictions of inflation, analysing the statistical properties of primordial quantum fluctuations that seeded cosmic structure formation. He also led the cosmological interpretation of the five- and seven-year data releases, which (according to Thomson Reuters) were the most highly cited research papers in all sciences published in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

The WMAP science team during a meeting at Princeton in 2002 with Eiichiro Komatsu on the left. Zoom Image
The WMAP science team during a meeting at Princeton in 2002 with Eiichiro Komatsu on the left.

For the sixth year, the Breakthrough Prizes recognize the contributions of the world’s top scientists. Each prize is $3 million, the largest individual monetary prize in science, and awarded in the fields of Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics. This year’s award ceremony was held in Silicon Valley on 3 December 2017, hosted by Morgan Freeman, and included a program of lectures and discussions. The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin, Yuri and Julia Milner, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki, and Pony Ma. Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates choose the winners.

 
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