Gilliland part of team that wins Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

December 16, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Ronald L. Gilliland, professor of practice in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, is a member of a team of scientists that is being recognized with the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. Gilliland and other members of the High-z Supernova Project are being recognized along with members of the Supernova Cosmology Project for demonstrating that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, rather than slowing as had long been assumed. The award, which recognizes major insights into the deepest questions of the universe, includes a $3 million prize that will be split among members of the teams.

Gilliland's current research uses a series of high-precision images to study the radiation emitted from stars -- as well as other asteroseismology techniques -- in order to discover the internal structure of stars. He also uses this approach to identify and characterize planets outside our solar system as they transit, or pass in front of, their parent star as viewed from Earth. He has been deeply involved with both the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler Mission, a NASA space observatory designed to find Earth-size exoplanets.

Before joining Penn State, Gilliland earned the distinction of Emeritus Astronomer at NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which manages the science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope. During his years at the STScI, Gilliland participated in the detection and study of supernovae -- highly energetic explosions of stars -- which resulted in his contributions to the discovery of an accelerating expansion of the universe. He also was one of the first astronomers to detect the presence of an atmosphere around a planet outside our solar system, and he has made many contributions to the study of stellar oscillations -- variations in the surface temperature, radius and overall brightness of a star.

In 2012, Gilliland received the Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize from the American Astronomical Society. He was a member of a team honored with a Gruber Prize in Cosmology in 2007. Gilliland also received two STScI Individual Science Achievement Awards -- one in 2002 and one in 1992 -- and a National Center for Atmospheric Research Individual Incentive Award in 1986. Gilliland is a member of the physics honor society Sigma Pi Sigma and the mathematics honor society Pi Mu Epsilon. In addition, he is a member of the American Astronomical Society and the International Astronomical Union. He is the author of more than 200 scientific papers in refereed publications such as The Astrophysical Journal.

Gilliland earned a doctorate degree in astronomy at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1979, and a bachelor’s degree in physics, mathematics and astronomy at the University of Kansas in 1974.

The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The prizes aim to celebrate scientists and to generate excitement about the pursuit of science as a career. Breakthrough Prizes are funded by a grant from Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki's foundation, The Brin Wojcicki Foundation; a grant from Mark Zuckerberg’s fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; a grant from the Jack Ma Foundation; and a grant from the Milner Foundation. Prize winners are chosen by a selection committee comprised of prior recipients of the prize.

  • Ronald L. Gilliland

    Ronald L. Gilliland, professor of practice in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated January 09, 2015