Brian Schmidt
Schmidt at the 2012 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
12th Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University
In office
1 January 2016 – 31 December 2023
ChancellorGareth Evans
Julie Bishop
Preceded byIan Young
Succeeded byGenevieve Bell
Personal details
Brian Schmidt

(1967-02-24) 24 February 1967 (age 57)
Missoula, Montana,
United States
NationalityAmerican Australian[1]
Alma materUniversity of Arizona (1989), Harvard University (1993)
SpouseJennifer M. Gordon
Scientific career
InstitutionsAustralian National University
ThesisType II supernovae, expanding photospheres, and the extragalactic distance scale (1993)
Doctoral advisorRobert Kirshner[3]
Doctoral studentsManisha Caleb

Brian Paul Schmidt AC FRS FAA FTSE (born 24 February 1967) is a Distinguished Professor and astrophysicist at the Australian National University's Mount Stromlo Observatory and Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.[4][5][6] He was the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU) from January 2016 to January 2024.[7][8][9] He is known for his research in using supernovae as cosmological probes. He previously held a Federation Fellowship and a Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) 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.

Early life and education

Interview with Brian Schmidt after his Nobel lecture

Schmidt, an only child, was born in Missoula, Montana, where his father Dana C. Schmidt was a fisheries biologist. When he was 13, his family relocated to Anchorage, Alaska.[10][11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

He graduated with a BS (Physics) and BS (Astronomy) from the University of Arizona in 1989.[14] He received his AM (Astronomy) in 1992 and then PhD (Astronomy) in 1993 from Harvard University.[15] Schmidt's PhD thesis was supervised by Robert Kirshner and used Type II Supernovae to measure the Hubble Constant.[16][3][17]

While at Harvard, he met his future wife, the Australian (Jenny) Jennifer M. Gordon who was a PhD student in economics. In 1994, they moved to Australia.[10][14]

Research and career

Schmidt was a postdoctoral research Fellow at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (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 Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian 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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20] This result was also found nearly simultaneously by the Supernova Cosmology Project, led by Saul Perlmutter.[20] 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.[20] 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 Riess and Perlmutter for their groundbreaking work.[20]

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.[21]

He is the chairman of the board of directors of Astronomy Australia Limited,[22] and he serves on the management committee of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO).[23] In July 2012 Schmidt was given a three-year appointment to sit on the Questacon Advisory Council.[24] As of March 2017, Schmidt serves as a member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Board of Sponsors.[25]

ANU Vice-Chancellor

On 24 June 2015 it was announced Schmidt would replace Ian Young as the 12th Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, to commence his tenure on 1 January 2016.[26] The Chancellor of the ANU, Professor Gareth Evans, said, "Brian Schmidt is superbly placed to deliver on the ambition of ANU founders – to permanently secure our position among the great universities of the world, and as a crucial contributor to the nation ... We had a stellar field of international and Australian candidates, and have chosen an inspirational leader. ... Brian's vision, vitality, global stature and communication skills are going to take our national university to places it has never been before."[7] On 2 February 2023, Schmidt announced that he would be stepping down as vice chancellor at the end of the year.[8][9]

Science advocacy

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.[19][21]

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.[27][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.[21] 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 standardised testing, concluding with the warning that otherwise "the fundamental tenet 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."[36] 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.[37] In 2015, he presented the Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change on the final day of the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which was signed by 76 Nobel Laureates and handed to then President of the French Republic, François Hollande, as part of the successful COP21 climate summit in Paris.[38]

Awards and honours

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,[39] and in 2006 he shared the Shaw Prize in Astronomy with Adam Riess and Saul Perlmutter.[40][41][42] In 2009, he was awarded an Australian Laureate Fellowship.[43]

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.[40][44]

Schmidt was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in the 2013 Australia Day Honours.[45] He was called "Australian of the Year" for 2011 by The Australian newspaper.[27] 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.[36][39]

Schmidt, Adam Riess, and the High-Z Supernova Search Team shared in the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.[46]

Schmidt was awarded the Dirac Medal of the University of New South Wales in 2012 and the Niels Bohr Institute Medal of Honour in 2015.[47] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2012;[2] his certificate of election to the Royal Society reads:

Brian Schmidt is an internationally renowned researcher in cosmology and also in the physics of supernovae and gamma ray bursts. In particular, Schmidt's formation and leadership of the High-z Supernova Search Team led to the discovery that the expansion of our universe is accelerating, for which he shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. This discovery completely changed our understanding of the universe. It showed that about 70% of the mass of our Universe is in a previously unknown form which is now usually referred to as 'Dark Energy'.[2]

He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (FTSE) in 2023.[48]

Personal life

Schmidt is married to Jennifer Gordon. 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 Australia and the United States.[13]

He is not religious, being described as a "militant agnostic" with his tagline, "I don't know, and neither do you!"[49]

Vineyard and winery

Schmidt and his wife own and operate Maipenrai Vineyard and Winery, a small winery established in 2000 in Sutton, near Canberra. The vineyard covers 1.1 hectares (2.7 acres), producing exclusively pinot noir grapes, and the wines have received favourable reviews.[50][51] Schmidt has quipped that "it's easier to sell your wine when you have a Nobel prize".[52] 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".[53]

See also


  1. ^ "The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics – Press Release". Nobel Foundation.
  2. ^ a b c d "Professor Brian Schmidt FRS". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 22 February 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Profile: Brian Schmidt". Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 13 January 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  4. ^ Brian P Schmidt – Curriculum Vitae
  5. ^ "with Brian Schmidt for Australian Astronomers oral history project, National Library of Australia". Archived from the original on 26 February 2020. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  6. ^ Nobel Prize in Physics 2011 Announcement
  7. ^ a b Physics Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt named new Australian National University vice-chancellor, ABC News Online, 24 June 2015
  8. ^ a b Evans, Steve (2 February 2023). "Professor Brian Schmidt to step down as vice-chancellor of the Australian National University". Canberra Times. Retrieved 2 February 2023.
  9. ^ a b "2023 State of the University: Vice-Chancellor's Address". Australian National University. 2 February 2023. Retrieved 2 February 2023.
  10. ^ a b Restless experimenter Archived 7 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine The Canberra Times, 6 April 2011, p 8.
  11. ^ "FACTBOX-Nobel physics prize winners", Reuters News, 4 October 2011.
  12. ^ "Star turn in global success", The Canberra Times, 1 July 2006, p B02.
  13. ^ a b Attard, Monica (5 August 2007). "Mr Universe: astronomer, Dr Brian Schmidt". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  14. ^ a b "SCHMIDT, Brian" in Who's Who Live Archived 17 October 2019 at the Wayback Machine (Australia), Crown Content Pty Ltd. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  15. ^ The Universe from Beginning to End, Pollock Memorial Lecture, April 2009, The University of Sydney. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  16. ^ "Two GSAS Alums Win 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Archived from the original on 25 November 2015. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  17. ^ "Professor Brian Schmidt, astronomer". Australian Academy of Science. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  18. ^ Cosmology ABC Catalyst segment on Cosmology, with Brian Schmidt, Ray Norris, & Lawrence Krauss
  19. ^ a b Moskowitz, Clara (22 December 2011). "Our Strange Universe: Q&A With Nobel Prize Winner Brian Schmidt". Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  20. ^ a b c d Palmer, Jason (4 October 2011). "Nobel physics prize honours accelerating Universe find". BBC. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  21. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  22. ^ "Astronomy Australia Limited – People". Archived from the original on 14 April 2015.
  23. ^ "Management Team". CAASTRO. Archived from the original on 22 August 2017. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  24. ^ "STAFF, MANAGEMENT AND COUNCIL". Questacon. Archived from the original on 11 July 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  25. ^ "Board of Sponsors". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 30 March 2017. Archived from the original on 9 May 2018. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  26. ^ "Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt to lead ANU" (Press release). Australian National University. 24 June 2015.
  27. ^ a b "Brian Schmidt: an Aussie expanding the universe". The Australian. 21 January 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  28. ^ Smith, Deborah (18 February 2012). "Primary colours of Nobel scientist". The Sydney Morning Herald. 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". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  31. ^ Warden, Ian (5 August 2014). "Gang-gang. The Life of Brian Schmidt". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  32. ^ Robertson, James (18 June 2013). "Scientists desperately seeking certainty". The Sydney Morning Herald. 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". The Sydney Morning Herald. 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., cited in "'This is just insanity': four Nobel laureates let fly over Australian science funding". The Sydney Morning Herald. 30 January 2015. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  36. ^ a b Schmidt, Brian (16 February 2015). "Jury in on climate change, so stop using arguments of convenience and listen to experts". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  37. ^ Hare, Julie (16 January 2014). "Nobel scientist willing to bet on global warming". The Australian. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  38. ^ "Mainau Declaration". Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  39. ^ a b "Brian Schmidt". Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  40. ^ a b "Nobel physics prize honours accelerating Universe find". BBC News. 4 October 2011.
  41. ^ "Australian Astrophysicist Wins Nobel Prize". ABC News. 5 October 2011.
  42. ^ O'Keefe, Brendan (18 July 2007). "Breakthrough keeps reaping rewards". The Australian. p. 23.
  43. ^ "FL0992131 — The Australian National University". Australian Research Council. 2009. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  44. ^ "Brian P. Schmidt – Facts". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 13 March 2015. for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae
  45. ^ "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.
  46. ^ "ANU Nobel Prize laureate Brian Schmidt receives new science honour". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 11 November 2014. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  47. ^ Brian Schmidt receives the Niels Bohr Institute Medal of Honour Archived 11 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine, 2015, Niels Bohr Institute, 29 January 2016
  48. ^ "Brian Schmidt AC FTSE FAA FRS". Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. Retrieved 11 October 2023.
  49. ^ Schmidt, Brian (23 December 2009). "Very different paths to God: Seeking truth in the heavens". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  50. ^ "Maipenrai Vineyard and Winery". Archived from the original on 25 February 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  51. ^ 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.
  52. ^ Robinson, Jancis (5 May 2012). "Brian Schmidt, star vigneron". Retrieved 25 February 2015. article also published in the Financial Times.
  53. ^ Lawson, Kirsten (18 December 2013). "Brian Schmidt joins Australian Wine Research Institute". Good Food. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
Awards and achievements Preceded byKonstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physicswith Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess 2011 Succeeded bySerge Haroche and David J. Wineland Educational offices Preceded byIan Young 12th Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University 2016–2023 Succeeded byGenevieve Bell