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Robert Kirshner

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Robert P. Kirshner
Born (1949-08-15) August 15, 1949 (age 70)
Alma materHarvard College (A.B.),
California Institute of Technology (Ph.D.)
Known forType Ia Supernova Studies, Large Scale Structure, supernova remnants
AwardsCaltech Distinguished Alumni Award
Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics (2011)
James Craig Watson Medal (2014)
Wolf Prize in Physics (2015)
Scientific career
InstitutionsGordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Harvard University
University of Michigan

Robert P. Kirshner (born August 15, 1949) is an American astronomer, since 2015 Chief Program Officer for Science of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and on leave as the Clowes Professor of Science at Harvard University[1][2]. Kirshner has worked in several areas of astronomy including the physics of supernovae, supernova remnants, the Large-scale structure of the cosmos and the use of Supernovae to measure the expansion of the universe.

In 1981, along with Augustus Oemler, Jr., Paul Schechter, and Stephen Shectman, Kirshner discovered the Boötes void in a survey of galaxy redshifts.[3] He led work on SN 1987A, the brightest supernova since Kepler's in 1604, using the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite in 1987 and the Hubble Space Telescope after its launch in 1990. In the 1990s, together with Oemler, Schechter, Shectman and others he participated in the Las Campanas Redshift Survey, a 35,000 galaxy survey using fiber optics and plug plates.

Kirshner was a member of the High-z Supernova Search Team that used observations of distant supernovae to discover the accelerating universe. This universal acceleration implies the existence of dark energy and was named the breakthrough of 1998 by Science magazine.[4] For this work, he also shared in the 2007 Gruber Cosmology Prize. Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess, both of whom were Kirshner's Ph.D students,[5] shared in the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for the same discovery.[6] His account of this discovery is described in The Extravagant Universe : Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos (2002; ISBN 978-0-691-05862-7).[7] He has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1998, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1992 and the American Philosophical Society since 2005. He was the President of the American Astronomical Society from 2004–2006. In July, 2015 he was appointed chief program officer for science at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, where he is leading the team responsible for distributing more than $100 million per year for research and technology that enables fundamental scientific discoveries.[8]

He received his A.B. magna cum laude in Astronomy from Harvard College in 1970, where he also won a Bowdoin Prize for Useful and Polite Literature. He earned his Ph.D., also in Astronomy, from Caltech in 1975. In 2004, he received the Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2010, he received an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Chicago. In 2011, he won the Dannie Heineman Prize in Astrophysics from the American Institute of Physics. In 2012, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2014, he won the James Craig Watson Medal for service to astronomy from the National Academy of Sciences and shared in the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics with the High-Z Team. In 2015, he shared the Wolf Prize in Physics with B.J. Bjorken. He is a popular writer[9][10] and speaker.[11][12][13][14][15]

At Harvard, he was Professor of Astronomy (1985–2016), served as the chair of the Astronomy Department (1990–1997) and as Harvard College Professor (2004–2009). He was appointed as the Clowes Professor of Science in 2001. From 1998–2004, he was the Director of the Optical and Infrared Division at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He helped Harvard join the Magellan Observatory in Chile and the Giant Magellan Telescope project.

Prior to joining Harvard in 1985, he worked at Kitt Peak National Observatory and taught at the University of Michigan for 9 years, where he rose to become Professor and Chairman of the Astronomy Department and helped to build the 2.4 meter Hiltner Telescope. At Michigan, he received an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship and won the Henry Russel Award.

In 1999, Kirshner married the novelist and filmmaker Jayne Loader.[16] From 2001–2007, they were the Masters of Quincy House, one of Harvard's 12 undergraduate houses.[17]

He is the father of the television writer/producer, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, and Matthew Kirshner of The Management Group in Los Angeles.



  1. ^ "Robert P. Kirshner". Harvard.
  2. ^ "Robert P. Kirshner". Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
  3. ^ Kirshner, R. P.; Oemler, A. J.; Schechter, P. L.; Shectman, S. A. (1981). "A million cubic megaparsec void in Bootes". The Astrophysical Journal. 248: L57-60. Bibcode:1981ApJ...248L..57K. doi:10.1086/183623.
  4. ^ James Glanz (18 December 1998). "Breakthrough of the Year: Astronomy: Cosmic Motion Revealed". Science. 282 (5397): 2156–2157. Bibcode:1998Sci...282.2156G. doi:10.1126/science.282.5397.2156a. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
  5. ^ "The Mathematics Genealogy Project – Robert Kirshner". Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  6. ^ "Brian Schmidt". Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  7. ^ Riordan, Michael (2003-04-13). "Department of Dark Energy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  8. ^ "2015 Wolf Prize Winner Joins Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation". Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  9. ^ Kirshner, Robert P. (2011-10-06). "The Universe, Dark Energy and Us". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  10. ^ "Astronomy Looks Ahead: Paperwork and Derring-Do". Times Topics Blog. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  11. ^ "Cosmologist Robert Kirshner explores accelerating universe in public talk on May 13". UC Santa Cruz News. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  12. ^ "Einstein's Blunder Undone: The Runaway Universe". Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  13. ^ "Hubble Space Telescope: Exploding Stars and the Accelerating Universe | National Air and Space Museum". Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  14. ^ "Robert Kirshner – Astronomer – Jodi Solomon Speakers". Jodi Solomon Speakers. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  15. ^ "Harvard Club of Miami". Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  16. ^ "WEDDINGS; Jayne Loader, Robert Kirshner". The New York Times. 1999-12-12. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  17. ^ "Kirshner Chosen As Quincy Master | News | The Harvard Crimson". Retrieved 2015-11-24.
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Robert Kirshner
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