Shane Burns, a Colorado College professor of physics, is a member of one of the two teams that won the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday.

There have been as many as 30 researchers working with winner Saul Perlmutter, physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at University of California Berkeley. Perlmutter shares the award with another team led by Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess.

Burns found out Tuesday morning when he was listening to NPR radio. “The first thing I did was email Saul congratulating him,” Burns said.

Burns has known Perlmutter since their graduate school days at UC Berkeley in the1980s, when they worked on a related project to look at nearby supernovas. Burns, who began teaching at CC in 2000, has been working on the project since then.

The project has used supernova explosions to gauge the age of the universe. In 1998, the team found that it is expanding at an accelerated rate. “It was a startling discovery,” Burns says.

The importance is that “it is understanding about the beginning of the universe and its ultimate fate.” Their most recent paper was in 2010.

The big question still to be determined is what is causing the expansion, Burns said. “It’s been dubbed dark energy but understanding it will require a rethinking of fundamental physics. It’s not predicted by current models.”

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