Professor Charles Bennett and members of his research team. Photo via Hopkins Hub.

Charles Bennett and his team of researchers have mapped their way to scientific rock-star status with their so-called Standard Model of Cosmology, which effectively serves as a guide to the inception, makeup and expansion of our universe.

Bennett appeared at a black tie ceremony in Palo Alto last night to accept his honor at the annual Breakthrough Prize awards, hosted by the voice of God himself, actor Morgan Freeman, and attended by the likes of Ron Howard, Kerry Washington and other celebrities.

The winners of the prizes, handed out since 2012, are celebrated for their achievements in the fields of physics, life sciences and mathematics – subjects not traditionally celebrated in popular culture, but deemed worthy of some celebrity-like recognition. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sergey Brin and other extra-wealthy information-age entrepreneurs founded the awards.

Bennett and his four colleagues from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP for short) will each take a share of the $3 million prize, the largest sum given out for any scientific award.

“The WMAP mission took us far beyond our physical reach. By carefully measuring the oldest light in the universe, we determined the key properties of our universe,” Bennett said, per the Hopkins Hub. “We are humbled but pleased that our research has been recognized by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.”

Bennett and company worked on WMAP for NASA from 2001 to 2010. In the process they conluded with some certainty that it’s roughly 13.8 billion years old, made up of less than 5 percent atoms and — in contrast — 25 percent dark matter and 70 percent dark energy, and that the first stars formed at around 400 million years. Their research effectively created a sky map that serves as a guide to the makeup of our universe.

Here’s Bennett talking more in-depth about the project:

YouTube video

Impressively, Bennett and his team are the third Hopkins-affiliated recipients of the $3 million prize since it began five years ago. Bert Vogelstein, a Hopkins Medicine researcher, won the award in the life sciences category in 2013 for his research on cancer genomics and tumor suppressor genes. Adam Riess and his team won the award the next year, also in the fundamental physics category, for discovering the universe is growing at an accelerating rate – a finding that Bennett and his team built upon in their research.

Bennett has earn awards year after year since WMAP wrapped up, sharing the $1 million Shaw Prize in 2010 and the $500,00 Gruber Cosmology Prize in 2012, and taking home the Jansky Prize in 2013 and the Isaac Newton Medal this past year, among others.

“Chuck and his WMAP team’s discoveries are both galactic and humbling in their significance for science and humanity,” said Hopkins president Ronald J. Daniels in a statement. “They inspire awe and ignite the imaginations of so many—particularly young scientists—with a passion to understand how our universe began and where it is headed.”

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...