Press Release
January 13, 2021

Pioneering Astrophysicist Charles L. Bennett Receives Rumford Prize


The Rumford Prize – a storied science award given by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences – has been given to Charles L. Bennett for his contributions to the field of cosmology. Previous recipients include Thomas Edison in 1895, Edwin Land in 1945, and Enrico Fermi in 1953. Bennett, a pioneering astrophysicist credited with advancing our knowledge of the universe, will accept the award at a virtual event hosted by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in February 2022.

At Johns Hopkins University, Bennett is Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Alumni Centennial Professor, and a Johns Hopkins University Gilman Scholar in the William H. Miller III Department of Physics and Astronomy with a joint appointment at the Applied Physics Laboratory. His major field of research is experimental cosmology, where he has contributed to establishing, testing, and extending a standard model of cosmology. Bennett is known for his work as Principal Investigator for NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe mission, commonly known as WMAP, which he led from 1996 to 2013. Over nine years of scientific observations (2001-2010), Bennett and the WMAP team made groundbreaking discoveries about the age, content, and history of the universe. For his work on WMAP, Bennett received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal and the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2004.

“Professor Bennett’s spectacular work helped transform cosmology into an integral component in the quest for the fundamental laws of physics,” said David W. Oxtoby, President of the American Academy. “His trailblazing work gives us an unprecedented, precise view of the universe, and more importantly, reminds us of the joys and possibilities of scientific discovery,”

“I am honored to receive the Rumford Prize and to join the distinguished group of scientists who received this prize before me,” said Bennett. “There has never been a guarantee that cosmologists or astrophysicists would come to understand the universe, but we have collectively made incredible discoveries in recent decades. I am thankful that I was able to contribute to this progress, grateful to my collaborators, and ever excited to see what mysteries of the universe we might unveil next.”

Bennett received his PhD in Physics from MIT in 1984 and joined the scientific staff of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center the same year. He would later be appointed as the Infrared Astrophysics Branch Head, a Senior Scientist for Experimental Cosmology, and a Goddard Senior Fellow. Prior to WMAP, Bennett was a leader of the Differential Microwave Radiometers instrument and the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) mission, which resulted in the first detection of variations of the temperature of cosmic microwave background radiation. He has taught at Johns Hopkins University since 2005.

“Professor Bennett’s accomplishments have had a remarkable impact on cosmology, astronomy, and beyond. His dedication has produced stunning discoveries about the very nature of the universe and encourages us to think big about questions and answers,” said Nancy C. Andrews, the Chair of the Academy’s Board, and Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital.

First awarded in 1839, the Rumford Prize recognizes distinguished contributions to the fields of heat and light and is one of the oldest scientific prizes in the United States. It was last awarded in 2019 to five scientists for their contributions to the invention and refinement of optogenetics.

Bennett will accept the Rumford Prize and deliver remarks at a virtual event hosted by the American Academy on February 10, 2022. Learn more about the award and register here.

Rumford Prize Event - February 10, 2022 - Online
Join us.