Alan Guth, the Weisskopf Professor of Physics, will share the $200,000 Cosmology Prize awarded by the Peter Gruber Foundation. The other winner is Andrei Linde, a professor of physics at Stanford University.
Guth and Linde were recognized "for their development of fundamental ideas of cosmic inflation, which has been one of the dominant themes of cosmology for more than two decades. The original concept of inflation and its many variations, including chaotic inflation, proposed and developed by Guth and Linde, have led to a revolution in our approach to studying cosmology and to understanding the history of the universe."
Inflationary theory describes the very early stages of the evolution of the universe and its structure. A modification of the Big Bang theory, it holds that all matter in the universe was created during a period of inflation as the universe rapidly expanded. In 1981, Guth (S.B. 1969, S.M., Ph.D.) pointed out the cosmological problems solved by inflation in his book, "The Inflationary Universe: A Possible Solution to the Horizon and Flatness Problems."
Later that year, Linde presented a refinement of the theory, called "new inflation." He developed inflation further to explain the existence of objects such as stars and galaxies in this universe. Recent observations of the cosmic microwave background have agreed with the predictions of inflation and confirmed the Big Bang plus inflation model as the cornerstone of modern cosmology.
Guth and Linde will receive their prize at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., in June.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 31, 2004.