Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff co-founded the High-Z Supernova Search Team that co-discovered dark energy -- and consequently the Universe's acceleration -- in 1998, a finding honored as "Science" magazine's "Scientific Breakthrough of the Year" for 1998 and with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The "Z" in High-Z Team is astrophysics shorthand for the amount the Universe has expanded as light travels through space. A large "Z" indicates a great distance, and the High-Z Team has discovered and studied supernovaes that exploded more than 5 billion light years from Earth. More information can be found at the High-Z Team website.

(Information courtesy of William G. Gilroy, University of Notre Dame.)


Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff, professor of physics and astronomy and inaugural holder of the Mitchell-Heep-Munnerlyn Chair in Observational Astronomy at Texas A&M University, has been appointed as a University Distinguished Professor, effective Sept. 1, 2013.

Suntzeff, director of the Texas A&M astronomy program and a member of the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, earns recognition along with five fellow Texas A&M faculty as the latest recipients of the coveted title: Dr. Edward R. Dougherty, professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dwight Look College of Engineering; Dr. Dimitris C. Lagoudas, professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, Dwight Look College of Engineering; Dr. Vijay P. Singh, professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Dwight Look College of Engineering; Dr. Ian Tizard, professor of veterinary pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; and Dr. Bernd G. Würsig, professor of marine biology, Texas A&M University at Galveston.

"University Distinguished Professors represent the highest level of achievement for our faculty," said Dr. Karan L. Watson, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. "They are recognized as pre-eminent authorities in their fields, and their accomplishments are exemplified by outstanding teaching, mentoring, discovery and service. They demonstrate to the world the high quality of scholarship under way at Texas A&M University."

The title, which is bestowed in perpetuity, indicates a recipient has made at least one seminal contribution to his or her discipline encompassing work that is central in any narrative of the field and widely recognized to have changed the direction of scholarship in the field, Watson added.

Suntzeff and his cross-campus colleagues join a select group of 69 currently active distinguished professors at Texas A&M, nearly half of whom (33) are affiliated with the College of Science.

"Of the slightly fewer than 1,000 full professors at Texas A&M University, only 69 are currently distinguished professors, and only up to five new ones are selected each year," said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science. "The data clearly speaks to how big a deal this is. As such, we are duly proud of Nick Suntzeff and this recognition he so richly deserves."

The group will be honored at an April 29 reception hosted by Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin and the Texas A&M Foundation to celebrate all faculty who are distinguished professors.

Suntzeff, who joined the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy faculty in 2006, is an observational astronomer specializing in cosmology, supernovae, stellar populations and astronomical instrumentation. He co-founded the High-Z Supernova Search Team along with Brian Schmidt that co-discovered dark energy in 1998, a finding honored as Science magazine's "Scientific Breakthrough of the Year" for 1998 across all science disciplines, with the 2007 Gruber Prize in Cosmology, and most recently with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The underpinning of this multi-prize-winning discovery dates back to 1986 and to Suntzeff's time in Chile, where he spent 20 years as the associate director for science at the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)/Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in La Serena, Chile. That year, he and colleague Mark Phillips produced the first modern measurements of the brightness of exploding stars. Between 1989 and 1996, their Calan/Tololo Supernova Project team also featuring CTIO's Mario Hamuy and the University of Chile's Jose Maza pioneered the use of exploding stars to measure precise distances deep into the Universe, ushering in the field of supernova cosmology.

Based on this work, Suntzeff's High-Z group discovered in 1998 that that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, implying the existence of a dark energy consistent with the cosmological constant of Einstein's theory of general relativity. Therefore, in a very real sense, Suntzeff's work led to the discovery of nearly 75 percent of the Universe.

Suntzeff previously was honored by the university in 2012 with a Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Research. A past vice president of the American Astronomical Society, he spent most of 2011 in Washington, D.C. as Texas A&M's first-ever National Academy of Sciences Jefferson Science Fellow, advising the U.S. State Department on scientific issues as they relate to international diplomacy.

Suntzeff earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Stanford University in 1974 and a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Lick Observatory in 1980.

To learn more about Suntzeff and his teaching, research and professional service accomplishments, visit http://faculty.physics.tamu.edu/nsuntzeff/.

For a complete list of distinguished professors at Texas A&M, visit http://dof.tamu.edu/node/569.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff, (979) 229-9597 or nsuntzeff@tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Star Search

    Image of SN1999em in galaxy NGC 1637, taken by Nicholas Suntzeff. In addition to serving as the High-Z team's principal investigator on the discovery of the supernovae, Suntzeff co-founded a previous group, the Calan/Tololo Supernova Project, that used the brightness from a specific type of supernova, Type Ia, to produce not only a precise calibration but also a precise measurement of the Hubble constant -- a key finding that paved the way for a Nobel Prize-winning discovery.

© Texas A&M University. To request use of any of our photographs for educational use or to view additional options from our archive, please contact the College of Science Communications Office.

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