Robert P. Kirshner

Robert P. Kirshner

Fellow: Awarded 2012
Field of Study: Physics

Competition: US & Canada

Harvard University

Robert P. Kirshner is Clowes Professor of Science at Harvard University. He graduated from Harvard College in 1970 and received a Ph.D. in Astronomy at Caltech.  He was a postdoc at the Kitt Peak National Observatory and served on the faculty at the University of Michigan for nine years.  In 1986, he moved to the Harvard Astronomy Department. He served as Chairman of the Department from 1990 to 1997 and as the head of the Optical and Infrared Division of the CfA from 1997 to 2003.  He was Master of Quincy House, one of Harvard’s undergraduate residences, from 2001 to 2007.


Professor Kirshner is an author of 300 research papers dealing with supernovae and observational cosmology. His most recent work explores the advantages of employing infrared observations of supernovae to improve our knowledge of the dark energy.  His work with the “High-Z Supernova Team” on the acceleration of the Universe was dubbed the “Science Breakthrough of the Year for 1998” by Science Magazine.  Kirshner and the High-Z Team shared in the Gruber Prize for Cosmology in 2007 and in 2011 the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to two of his graduate students: Brian Schmidt (Ph.D., 1993) and Adam Riess (Ph.D., 1996). A member of the Amercian Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1998 and the American Philosophical Society in 2004.   He served as President of the American Astronomical Society from 2003 to 2005.   Kirshner was given the Distinguished Alumni Award by Caltech in 2004.


Kirshner is a frequent public lecturer on science. He is also the teacher of a general education course for Harvard undergraduates entitled “The Energetic Universe.” His popular-level book The Extravagant Universe: exploding stars, dark energy, and the accelerating cosmos was published by Princeton University Press. It won the AAP Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Physics and Astronomy and was a Finalist for the 2003 Aventis Prize.  The Extravagant Universe is now available in paperback and has been translated into Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Czech.

Profile photograph by Lynn Berry Hetherington.

National Academy of Sciences , 1998
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