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Professor Brian Schmidt AC has been announced as the next appointed Vice-Chancellor of The Australian National University (ANU). The renowned astrophysicist and winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics will be taking up the position on the 1st of January 2016, when he will become the University’s 12th Vice-Chancellor.

“Brian Schmidt is superbly placed to deliver on the ambition of ANU founders – to permanently secure our position among the great universities of the world, and as a crucial contributor to the nation,” said ANU Chancellor Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC.

“We had a stellar field of international and Australian candidates, and have chosen an inspirational leader.

Brian’s vision, vitality, global stature and communication skills are going to take our national university to places it has never been before.”

Professor Ian Young, who will be concluding his term as Vice-Chancellor at the end of 2015, was similarly effusive in his praise for Professor Schmidt.

“Professor Schmidt is an outstanding appointment and I look forward to working with him as I complete the final six months of my term.”
Following the conclusion of his term, Professor Young plans to return to his research in maritime engineering and oceanography at the Swinburne University of Technology.

Vision for ANU

Professor Schmidt, who has been at ANU since 1995, has stated that he would work to not only further improve the outstanding research at ANU, but also to ensure the University provided its students with an education equal to that of Oxford, Cambridge and the great Ivy League schools in the United States.

“We’re nearly there, and we’re going to get there over the next few years,” he said.

“I am especially looking forward to connecting our students today with the students of the past, our alumni, for their mutual benefit.

“We need to focus as well on outreach, devising policy for the nation, and working with business and institutions like CSIRO. In this way we can take the knowledge we create and give it back to the nation to make Australia even stronger.”

He has also expressed a preparedness to institute controversial decisions to improve the university.

“Every vice-chancellor has had to make hard decisions and those are always going to be controversial,” Professor Schmidt said.

“Professor Young has gone through and charted a course, he has a strategic plan for the future. It’s very much the same type of strategic plan I will be adopting.

“It’s only by making hard decisions for the betterment of the institution that we can hope to be world class and stay there.”

University funding and fee deregulation will undoubtedly be among the most prominent items on Brian Schmidt’s agenda when he commences in the role.

“The way universities are funded right now needs to be looked at and changed. I will be briefed over the next six months on it. How it’s going to resolve itself is a very complex issue that involves this university, it involves other universities, it involves the political parties.

“We’re going to ensure it’s a fair and equitable and reasonable solution. We want to be able to give students the best possible education that is fair value and is going to empower them to go out and do great things with their life.”

About Brian Schmidt

Born on February 24, 1967 in Missoula, Montana, Brian Schmidt moved with his family at the age of 13 to Anchorage, Alaska. He had initially planned on being a meteorologist, but after doing some work with the US National Weather Service, found it much less exciting than he had originally anticipated. During his childhood, he had seen astronomy as “a minor past time”, but needing to choose something for university, Schmidt reasoned that “I’ll do astronomy and change into something else later.” As it turned out, he never made that change.

He completed his undergraduate studies in physics and astronomy at the University of Arizona in 1989. He then proceeded to earn his Master’s and PhD in astronomy from Harvard University in 1993. It was at Harvard he met his wife, Jennifer M. Gordon, an Australian doing her PhD in Economics. In 1994, he moved to Australia, and the couple now have two children. Professor Schmidt is a dual Australian-American citizen.

Dr Schmidt sent shockwaves in the physics world in 1998 in a paper by the High-z Supernova Search Team with first author Adam Riess, when he announced that the universe was expanding at an accelerating rate, turning accepted scientific theory at the time on its head. It had been thought until then that the universe would ultimately end in a “big crunch” as gravity reined in all matter created by the “Big Bang”, but Dr Schmidt said the universe will become infinitely big due to “dark energy”.

Cosmologists have proposed the existence of what is known as “dark energy” to explain the rising expansion of the universe. Although its properties and nature remain unknown, the predominant scientific theory is that “dark energy” constitutes three-quarters of the universe.

In 2011, Dr Schmidt won The Nobel Prize in Physics for his groundbreaking discovery, sharing it with Adam Riess and Saul Perlmutter. Professor Perlmutter of the University of California, Berkeley, led the Supernova Cosmology Project, which made the same discovery as the High-z Supernova Search Team led by Professor Schmidt. The two groups announced their results within only weeks of each other.

Dr Schmidt has been the recipient of many other awards and accolades, notably the 2006 Shaw Prize in Astronomy and appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia in the 2013 Australia Day Honours.

When not stargazing, Brian Schmidt’s other passion in life is wine. Schmidt and his wife own and operate Maipenrai Vineyard and Winery, a 1.1 hectare winery established in 2000 in Sutton, near Canberra. At the 2011 Nobel Prize Ceremonies in Stockholm, he presented King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden with a bottle of wine from his winery. In 2013, Professor Schmidt was appointed to the board of the Australian Wine Research Institute.