Professor Dragan Huterer was recently awarded the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Awardees are recognized internationally as leaders in their field and must have received their doctorate degree less than 18 years previously. The award also allows recipients to collaborate with German researchers in their field. Professor Huterer’s award was given “in recognition of [his] past accomplishments in research and teaching.”
Professor Huterer works on the nature and properties of "dark energy", a mysterious component that makes up about 75% of the energy in the universe. Dark energy causes the universe to expand at an increasing rate, but its physical nature is one of the top unsolved problems in physics and astronomy. To investigate what dark energy is, Professor Huterer and his team use Type Ia supernova measurements, large-scale structure surveys, and cosmic microwave background anisotropies as tools of precision cosmology.
Type Ia supernovae have historically been key to the discovery of dark energy. This is because these cosmic explosions have a nearly fixed intrinsic brightness. Depending on how bright or dim the measured supernova appears, its distance to us can be calculated. Large scale structure surveys probe the clustering of galaxies in the universe as well as how light from those galaxies is deflected by other massive objects on its way to us. These surveys are sensitive to the rate at which the patterns of clusters form under the force of gravity, a process that is affected by dark energy. Finally, the cosmic microwave background is radiation left over from the early universe. Tiny non-uniformities, or anisotropies, in its temperature observed across the sky, contain a spectacular amount of information about the universe and its evolution, including dark energy.
Another focus of Professor Huterer’s research is testing the statistical isotropy of the universe — whether, on average, the universe looks the same in every direction that we observe. Professor Huterer is also interested in signatures of the early universe in the present-day astronomical observations, applying various methods to learn about the universe moments after the Big Bang.