More than 100 students, family and colleagues gathered yesterday evening to congratulate Clowes Professor of Science Robert P. Kirshner ’70 on his recently published book, The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos.
The crowd that filled Kirshner’s Quincy House residence even speculated the House master’s work could win him a Nobel Prize.
Kirshner’s book details his discoveries in the field of astrophysics. By studying the motion of supernovas, Kirshner built on previous theories of the expansion of the universe.
“The universe is not just expanding, but the expansion is speeding up—accelerating,” he said.
Kirshner attributes this acceleration to “dark energy” that acts as a vacuum, sucking the universe farther and farther out into the emptiness of space. According to Kirshner, dark energy was previously unknown.
“The universe is one-third matter and two-thirds energy,” he said. “If this is true, we’ve discovered two-thirds of the universe.”
“I think he’s a sure thing to get the Nobel Prize,” said Professor of Medicine William S. Beck, who has researched and published work on the Nobel Prize.
Beck said the Nobel selection committee has ignored astrophysicists like Kirshner at the expense of other kinds of physicists in the past. Beck suggested that Kirshner could win a “make-up prize” given by the committee to right what he described as a past injustice—not giving Edwin P. Hubble the Nobel for his original theory on expansion of the universe.
“He expanded on what Hubble did using the Hubble telescope,” Beck said.
He said Kirshner is more likely to get the prize because Hubble did not.
While the party buzzed with talk of the Nobel Prize, Quincy House Co-Master Jayne Loader warned against the topic.
“You can’t say it,” she said, talking about the possibility of her husband winning the prize. “The superstition is you never discuss it.”
While Kirshner called talk of the Nobel “presumptuous,” he didn’t dismiss the possibility.
“I’ll send [the book] to all my friends in Sweden,” he said, referring to the home of the Nobel Prizes.
Talk of the prize aside, Kirshner said his book has been selling well both on Amazon.com and at the Harvard Book Store.
Gardner Key, an assistant manager at the Harvard Book Store, said Kirshner’s book has sold 27 copies this month.
“It’s good, especially for a science book,” he said. “It’s very good.”