We often think of bringing home the gold in international competition, but a loftier prize has made its way around the neck of a son from the Treasure State.

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What Is The Nobel Prize?

The Nobel Prize is a prestigious international award that Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor and businessman, established in 1901 and which the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden, manages. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank established the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize. Each prize consists of a medal, a personal diploma, and a cash award.

A person or organization awarded the Nobel Prize is called a Nobel Prize laureate. The word "laureate" refers to someone who wears a laurel wreath. In ancient Greece, laurel wreaths were awarded to victors as a sign of honor.

Montana's Award Winner

The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics was bestowed upon astronomer Brian P. Schmidt—who was born on February 24, 1967, in Missoula, Montana, United States—for his identification of dark energy, an attractive force that constitutes the majority of the cosmos (73 percent).


In addition to astronomer Adam Riess, he was joined in receiving the award by American physicist Saul Perlmutter. Schmidt was a dual U.S. and Australian citizen.

Schmidt attended the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he earned a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics in 1989. He was Riess's advisor at Harvard University, where he earned a master's degree (1992) and a doctorate (1993) in astronomy.

He held a postdoctoral position in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics from 1993 to 1994. He became an Australian citizen in 2010 and worked his way up the academic ladder at the Australian National University, Canberra, where he had a postdoctoral grant in 1995 and held a number of roles before being appointed professor.

In his research, Schmidt used supernovae as a proxy for distant galaxies. He and American astronomer Nicholas Suntzeff founded the High-Z SN Search team in 1994, an international group of astronomers that sought out Type Ia supernovae.

These objects can be used to precisely measure the distances between distant galaxies and, by extension, the pace of cosmic expansion, due to their nearly identical brightness. Schmidt, Riess, and the team found in 1998 that Type Ia supernovae that detonated when the cosmos was younger were fainter than expected.

The supernovae were thus located at a greater distance than anticipated. Because dark energy's repulsive force is now more powerful than in the past, this means that the cosmos is expanding at a faster rate than it was before.

A team under the leadership of Perlmutter also made the decision independently. A shocking finding that reshaped cosmology was the acceleration of the universe, which meant that most of the mass energy in the cosmos was of an entirely mysterious kind.

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Gallery Credit: Ace Acosta for 600 ESPN El Paso


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