Alex Filippenko

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Alex Filippenko
Alexei Filippenko.jpg
Alexei Vladimir Filippenko

(1958-07-25) July 25, 1958 (age 64)
Oakland, California, United States
EducationUniversity of California, Santa Barbara (B.A. 1979)
California Institute of Technology (Ph.D. 1984)
Known forStudies of supernovae, active galaxies, black holes, accelerating expansion of the Universe
SpouseNoelle Filippenko
AwardsNewton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy
Guggenheim Fellowship
Gruber Prize in Cosmology
Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Carnegie/CASE National Professor of the Year
Richard H. Emmons Award
Robert M. Petrie Prize
Richtmyer Memorial Award
Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Berkeley
ThesisPhysical conditions in low-luminosity active galactic nuclei (1984)
Doctoral advisorWallace L. W. Sargent
Other academic advisorsStanton J. Peale[1]
Hyron Spinrad

Alexei Vladimir "Alex" Filippenko (/fɪlɪˈpɛnk/; born July 25, 1958) is an American astrophysicist and professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley. Filippenko graduated from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California. He received a Bachelor of Arts in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1979 and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology in 1984, where he was a Hertz Foundation Fellow. He was a postdoctoral Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley and was subsequently appointed to a faculty position at the same institution. He was later named a Miller Research Professor for Spring 1996 and Spring 2005, and he is now a Senior Miller Fellow. His research focuses on supernovae and active galaxies at optical, ultraviolet, and near-infrared wavelengths, as well as on black holes, gamma-ray bursts, and the expansion of the Universe.


Filippenko is the only person who was a member of both the Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-z Supernova Search Team, which used observations of extragalactic Type Ia supernovae to discover the accelerating universe and its implied existence of dark energy. The discovery was voted the top science breakthrough of 1998 by Science magazine[2] and resulted in the 2011 Nobel prize for physics being awarded to the leaders of the two project teams.

Filippenko developed and runs the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope (KAIT), a fully robotic telescope which conducts the Lick Observatory Supernova Search (LOSS). During the years 1998–2008, it was by far the world's most successful search for relatively nearby supernovae, finding over 650 of them.[3]

His research, concentrating on optical spectroscopy, showed that many core-collapse supernovae result from massive stars with partially or highly stripped envelopes, helped establish the Type IIn subclass characterized by ejecta interacting with circumstellar gas, observationally identified the progenitors of some supernovae, revealed that many supernovae are quite aspherical, and showed that Type Ia supernovae exhibit considerable heterogeneity—crucial to the development of methods to calibrate them for accurate distance determinations.

Filippenko's early work showed that the nuclei of most bright, nearby galaxies exhibit activity physically similar to that of quasars, driven by gas accretion onto a supermassive black hole. He is also a member of the Nuker Team which uses the Hubble Space Telescope to examine supermassive black holes and determined the relationship between a galaxy's central black hole's mass and velocity dispersion.[4][5] In half a dozen X-ray binary stars, he provided compelling dynamical evidence for a stellar-mass black hole. His robotic telescope (KAIT) made some of the very earliest measurements of the optical afterglows of gamma-ray bursts.

The Thompson-Reuters "incites" index ranked Filippenko as the most cited researcher in space science for the ten-year period between 1996 and 2006.[6]

In the media[edit]

Filippenko is frequently featured in the History Channel series The Universe, as well as in the series How the Universe Works. Overall, he has participated in more than 120 science documentaries.

Filippenko is the author of and teacher in an eight-volume teaching series on DVD called Understanding the Universe.[7] Organized into three major sections in ten smaller units, this series of 96 half-hour lectures covers the material of an undergraduate survey course for An Introduction to Astronomy (the series' subtitle). His other videos courses are Black Holes Explained[8] and Skywatching: Seeing and Understanding Cosmic Wonders.[9]

With co-author Jay M. Pasachoff, Filippenko also wrote the award-winning introductory textbook The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium, now in its fifth edition (2019).,[10]

Honors and awards[edit]

Dr. Filippenko speaks at Menlo School

Filippenko was awarded the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy in 1992 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000. In 1997, the Canadian Astronomical Society invited him to give the Robert M. Petrie Prize Lecture for his significant contributions to astrophysical research. He was also invited to give the 42nd Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture in 2012. He was recognized in the 2007 Gruber Cosmology Prize for his work with then Miller Postdoctoral Fellow Adam G. Riess and for his highly specialized contributions in measurement of the apparent brightness of distant supernovae, which accurately established the distances that support the conclusion of an increasingly rapid expansion of the universe.[11] (Riess shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery.)[12] Filippenko was elected to the California Academy of Sciences in 1999,[13] the National Academy of Sciences[14] in 2009, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015.[15] In 2021 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society. He shared the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics with Brian P. Schmidt, Adam Riess, Saul Perlmutter, the High-Z Supernova Search Team, and the Supernova Cosmology Project.

In addition to recognition for his scholarship, he has received numerous honors for his undergraduate teaching and public outreach, including the 2007 Richtmyer Memorial Award given annually by the American Association of Physics Teachers and the Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization by Wonderfest in 2004.[16] In 2006 Filippenko was awarded the US National Professor of the Year Award, sponsored by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and administered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).[17] He also won the 2010 Richard H. Emmons Award for excellence in college astronomy teaching, issued by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.[18] In 2022, he was awarded the American Astronomical Society's Education Prize.[19][20] His teaching awards at UC Berkeley include the Donald S. Noyce Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the Physical Sciences[21] and the Distinguished Teaching Award.[22] The UC Berkeley student body has also voted him nine times as their "Best Professor" on campus.[23]

He served as President of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 2001–2003.[24] In 1988, he was selected for a UC Santa Barbara Distinguished Alumni Award,[25] and in 2017 he received a Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award.[26]


In April 2015, Filippenko forwarded an email message from U.C. Santa Cruz Professor Sandra Faber regarding the controversial construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. In that message, Faber stated that "The Thirty-Meter Telescope is in trouble, attacked by a horde of native Hawaiians who are lying about the impact of the project on the mountain and who are threatening the safety of TMT personnel. Government officials are supporting TMT’s legality to proceed but are not arresting any of the protestors who are blocking the road.".[27] Faber encouraged astronomers to read more about the TMT protests [28] and to sign a pro-TMT petition written by Mailani Neal, a native Hawaiian high-school student. Filippenko forwarded that email to a group of more than 200 astronomers on U.C. Berkeley's astronomy e-mail list, stating "From Sandy Faber (but I support what she says)." Some people inside and outside of the astronomy community reacted with shock and opposition to the e-mails, the allegedly false claim that TMT personnel were in danger (personnel were not allowed to pass, with verbal and potential physical threats to those who wanted to do so), and the reference to a "horde of native Hawaiians who are lying."[29]

After briefly apologizing in a hastily written email message sent from his iPhone, Filippenko later issued a longer statement.[30] There, he appears to sincerely apologize for not editing Faber's message before forwarding it, explaining that he had been busy in an administrative meeting at that time and had not carefully read her message. He explicitly acknowledges the “insensitive and inflammatory” language that had been used in Faber's message, saying that he had meant to write “I support the petition” instead of “I support what [Faber] says.” Filippenko's statement also argues against the anti-TMT position of many Native Hawaiians, claiming good-faith negotiations with Native Hawaiians communities, and otherwise justifying the siting of the TMT over some Native Hawaiian objection to further desecration of a site sacred to them. Such sentiments have been expressed by many others as well.[31] The American Astronomical Society issued a statement reiterating its formal anti-racist stance and noted the disagreement over whether Filippenko's apology was indeed "sincere and unqualified."[32] Both Faber and Filippenko have refused media requests for comment since the incident.

Personal life[edit]

Filippenko is married to Noelle Filippenko and has four children: Zoe, Simon, Caprielle, and Orion.[33]


  1. ^ "Alex Filippenko - Acceptance Speech". U.S. Professors of the Year. Archived from the original on October 31, 2014. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  2. ^ James Glanz (December 18, 1998). "Breakthrough of the Year: Astronomy: Cosmic Motion Revealed". Science. 282 (5397): 2156–2157. Bibcode:1998Sci...282.2156G. doi:10.1126/science.282.5397.2156a. S2CID 117807831.
  3. ^ "The KAIT Home Page".
  4. ^ Tod Lauer (14 August 2007). "HST Investigations Into the Central Structure of Galaxies". National Optical Astronomy Observatory. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
  5. ^ Gebhardt, Karl; et al. (August 2000). "A Relationship between Nuclear Black Hole Mass and Galaxy Velocity Dispersion". The Astrophysical Journal. 539 (1): L13–L16. arXiv:astro-ph/0006289. Bibcode:2000ApJ...539L..13G. doi:10.1086/312840. S2CID 11737403.
  6. ^ "Top 10 Researchers In Space Science". In-cites. The Thomson Corporation. November 2006. Archived from the original on 2008-02-25. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
  7. ^ "The Great Courses".
  8. ^ "The Great Courses".
  9. ^ "The Great Courses".
  10. ^ Pasachoff, Jay M.; Filippenko, Alex (Jul 2019), The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium (5th ed.), New York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9781108431385
  11. ^ UC Berkeley news UC Berkeley. 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-17.
  12. ^ Nobel Prize website The Nobel Prize in Physics 2011. Retrieved 2014-03-17.
  13. ^ "Academy Fellows".
  14. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Alex Filippenko - Exploding Stars and the Accelerating Universe". YouTube.
  15. ^ "Alexei V. Filippenko".
  16. ^ "Sagan Prize Recipients". 2011. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  17. ^ Robert Sanders (16 November 2006). "Astronomer Alex Filippenko named national Professor of the Year". UC Berkeley News. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2008-07-12.
  18. ^ "ASP Annual Awards". ASP. 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  19. ^ "Alex Filippenko Awarded the AAS 2022 Education Prize -Astronomy Department".
  20. ^ "Education Prize | American Astronomical Society".
  21. ^ Donald Noyce Prize page Archived 2014-03-13 at the Wayback Machine UC Berkeley. 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-17.
  22. ^ Distinguished Teaching Award page Archived 2014-03-18 at the Wayback Machine UC Berkeley. 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-17.
  23. ^ "Alexei V. Filippenko Faculty Page". UC Berkeley. 2021. Archived from the original on 2012-09-30. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  24. ^ "Astronomical Society of the Pacific : WHO WE ARE : Board of Directors : Past Board Presidents and Executive Directors".
  25. ^ "Past Award Recipients".
  26. ^ "Caltech Alumni Association | Award Recipient: Alexei V. Filippenko".
  27. ^ Stemwedel, Janet T. (June 6, 2015). "The Thirty-Meter Telescope Reveals Ethical Challenges for the Astronomy Community". Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  28. ^ "Thirty meter telescope". HuffPost.
  29. ^ Prescod-Weinstein, Chanda (May 25, 2015). "On Astronomers & Acceptable Anger: Hordes of Natives & Angry White Women". Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  30. ^ Filippenko, Alex (22 April 2015). "To My Colleagues". Retrieved May 4, 2021 – via Joe Turner.
  31. ^ "This giant telescope may taint sacred land. Here's why we should build it anyway". Business Insider.
  32. ^ Urry, Claudia "Meg"d (May 6, 2015). "A Response to Community Concerns about Our Professional Climate". Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  33. ^ Pasachoff, Jay M.; Filippenko, Alex (2014) [2001]. The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. xxiii. ISBN 9781107276956.

External links[edit]