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Asian Scientist Magazine Talks To 2011 Physics Nobel Prize Laureate, Brian Schmidt

Asian Scientist Magazine chats with 2011 Physics Nobel Prize Laureate Brian P. Schmidt about his win, the Square Kilometer Array telescope, and the Giant Meter Radio Telescope project.

| January 9, 2012 | Editorials

AsianScientist (Jan. 9, 2012) – Brian P. Schmidt of the Australian National University (ANU) has won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics along with Saul Perlmutter and Adam G. Riess for providing evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

Born in 1967 in Montana, USA, Schmidt won the prestigious award “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae” and is affiliated to the Australian National University in Weston Creek, Australia.

Brian P. Schmidt delivered his Nobel Lecture on December 8, 2011 at Aula Magna, Stockholm University. He was introduced by Professor Börje Johansson, Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

“Through modern telescopes we can see the distant part of the universe. How fast the universe was expanding depends upon its past. Gravity will slow it down,” he said during the lecture.

Schmidt received his Nobel Prize on December 10, 2011 from His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall.

On behalf of Asian Scientist Magazine, our space and nuclear correspondent Srinivas Laxman spoke to the new Laureate about his win, the Square Kilometer Array telescope, and the Giant Meter Radio Telescope project.

Recording of Nobel Media's TV-program 'Nobel Minds', hosted by Zeinab Badawi, BBC World News, in the Bernadotte Library at the Royal Palace, 9 December 2011 (Photo: Claes Löfgren/Nobel Media AB 2011).

Australia is teaming up with South Africa to design and develop the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope with which you are connected. It will be the most powerful radio telescope in the world. Could you give some details about the telescope?

The primary role of the SKA will be to look back at the universe and study it in detail.

I also think it will also have the capability to see some distant new planets, though they may not be in the habitable zone. It may even detect very weak extraterrestrial signals.

The SKA will give astronomers insight into the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies.

Has any decision been made on its location — Australia or South Africa?

I believe the committee studying this issue has presented its report. I think the Australian proposal is very strong. Australia is gung-ho about this project and I believe we have a compelling case.

(Editor’s note: The SKA telescope will be a two billion dollar telescope involving more than 70 institutes in 20 countries. Its initial construction is slated to begin in 2016, the first science will take place in 2019, and full operation in 2024. On November 23, 2011 seven countries and research institutions announced the formation of the SKA organization to formalize the relationships among its partners. The nations are Australia, China, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK).

On July 20 1969, the Parkes Telescope in Australia played a key role in the first manned lunar landing. Do you think that in the years ahead the SKA will perform a similar role for future space missions?

Yes, this was on the agenda sometime back, but not now.

You have many links with India. You are a recipient of the prestigious Vainu Bappu Medal of the Astronomical Society of India and you are in touch with Indian scientists. Considering this, what role do you foresee for India in the SKA project?

India has a very strong history in radio astronomy. Keeping this in view, I hope that India will join the SKA and play an active part in its development. India has a lot to offer. I am in touch with the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore and other Indian officials on this issue.

But, I am happy to say that India is actively partnering in the prototype project of the SKA which is being constructed in Western Australia. It is a joint India-Australia-U.S. project and is expected to be completed in 2012.

Its present cost is about 20 million dollars and India’s share is more than ten percent. India’s role is mainly in the development of the electronics which is a key aspect of the prototype telescope.

Would you like to comment on the Giant Meter Radio Telescope (GMRT) project at Khodad near Pune in Maharashtra?

It is a great telescope. I have visited it and I can definitely say that it is the best in the world. Globally, it is a forefront facility which is used by astronomers from all over the world.

Do you think that India is delaying the launching of an astronomical satellite, Astrosat, which is now slated for lift off in October-November 2012? Other countries have launched astronomical satellites much earlier.

I do not agree that India has delayed the launching of such a satellite. The U.S. may be ahead of India in the field of space sciences, but undoubtedly India is ahead of Australia.

In this region, India is taking the lead and the launch of Astrosat will provide a boost to the Indian satellite industry.

To listen to Dr. Schmidt’s Nobel Lecture: Nobel Lecture by Brian P. Schmidt, Nobel Prize in Physics 2011.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo credit: Nobel Media AB 2011.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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