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Guth Wins Cosmology Prize For Inflationary Universe

By Brian Loux

EDITOR IN CHIEF

Weisskopf Professor of Physics Alan Guth has won the 2004 Cosmology Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation for his role in refining the theories on cosmic inflation. Guth will share the award, which includes a $200,000 unrestricted grant, with Andre Linde, a professor of physics at Stanford University.

“We are extremely pleased to honor the work of Professors Guth and Linde and to pay tribute to the theory of cosmic inflation,” Gruber said in a press release. “Their original ideas over more than 20 years have profoundly changed the field of cosmology.”

The Peter Gruber Foundation began presenting “awards recognizing human discoveries and contributions that effect fundamental shifts in human knowledge and culture,” according to the foundation’s web site. The U.S. Virgin Islands-based foundation issues five awards annually in the categories of cosmology, genetics, women’s rights, justice, and neuroscience.

Award honors 23-year old theory

Guth first proposed the idea of cosmic inflation in 1981 in his paper “The Inflationary Universe: A Possible Solution to the Horizon and Flatness Problems.” The theory posits a very small but extremely dense bit of matter that entered a rare state causing its gravitational field to be reversed. In essence, instead of gravity pulling objects together, this bit of matter pushed outward and created inflation. Fluctuations in the matter’s initial energy densities, once it had expanded, laid the groundwork for large cosmic structures such as galaxies to evolve.

While inflationary theories had already been postulated as early as the 1970s, Guth’s paper not only formalized them, but addressed how inflationary theory solved the flatness problem (why the universe can to expand without collapsing under its own gravitational pull or spreading its matter thinner and thinner), and the horizon problem (why cosmic background radiation is of almost equal density throughout the entirety of space). It would later be Linde, who shares in this year’s award, who noted specific problems with Guth’s original inflationary model and would go on to correct them.

The award will be officially presented to the two winners at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. on June 4.