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Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine


Astrophysicist, Team Win Stimulus Grant to Build Telescope

Bennett and students

Charles Bennett (rear) and graduate students Lingzhen Zeng (left) and Joseph Eimer are pictured in the Bloomberg Center space where they will build the ground-based instrument called CLASS.

Photo: Willkirk/

A team led by Physics and Astronomy’s Charles Bennett has won a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build an instrument designed to probe what happened during the universe’s first trillionth of a second.
The instrument, which is expected to take five years to build, will have the capability of measuring the cosmic microwave background radiation over larger swaths of the sky, says Bennett, a professor in Physics and Astronomy who has been honored with many of the field’s top prizes for his research into the universe’s infancy.

His latest undertaking, the NSF-funded ground-based telescope called the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor (CLASS), will be built at Johns Hopkins and then shipped to a perch in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

The instrument is designed to search the microwave sky for a unique polarization pattern predicted to have arisen in the infant universe. It will help determine the veracity of a theory called “inflation,” which posits that the universe expanded suddenly from infinitesimal to astronomical size in far less time than the blink of an eye.

Bennett, his colleagues, and his students are hard at work developing the state-of-the-art technologies needed for the instrument, which will be built in the basement of the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy on the Homewood campus.
“Thanks to my graduate students, Joseph Eimer and Lingzhen Zeng, we were ready when opportunity arose,” Bennett says. “We are really building [the instrument], screwdrivers and all.”

The grant is administered through the federal stimulus act. The project is expected to support an additional 39 full-time employees, plus graduate students, over the course of the five-year grant.