Nicholas B. Suntzeff

Nicholas B. Suntzeff

Nicholas Suntzeff
Houston, Texas 2009
Born (1952-11-22)November 22, 1952
San Francisco, CA
Residence College Station, Texas
Citizenship USA
Nationality  United States
Fields Astronomy
Institutions Texas A&M University,
United States Department of State
Alma mater Stanford University
University of California at Santa Cruz
Lick Observatory
Doctoral advisor Robert Kraft
Known for Observational cosmology based on supernovae
Nicholas B. Suntzeff (born 1952, Mitchell/Heep/Munnerlyn Chair of Astronomy in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Texas A&M University where he is Director of the Astronomy Program. He is an observational astronomer specializing in cosmology, supernovae, stellar populations, and astronomical instrumentation. With Brian Schmidt he founded the High-z Supernova Search Team, which was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011 to Schmidt and Adam Riess.


Suntzeff graduated from Neil Cummins Elementary School in Corte Madera, California and Redwood High School in Larkspur, California. He received his B.S. with distinction in mathematics from Stanford University in 1974 and his Ph.D. in astronomy & astrophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Lick Observatory in 1980. While undergraduates at Stanford University, Suntzeff and engineering student Michael Kast built the Stanford Student Observatory.[1][2]


After graduating in 1980, he worked as a University of Washington. From 1982-1986 he was a Carnegie/Las Campanas Fellow at the Mount Wilson & Las Campanas Observatories, now called the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

After moving to Chile in 1986, Suntzeff working with Mark M. Phillips at CTIO used the newly developed cryogenic CCD cameras to produce the first modern light curve of a supernova.[3] The fundamental calibration for distances to Type Ia supernovae was invented by the Calán/Tololo Supernova Survey,[4][5] founded by Mario Hamuy, Jose Maza, Mark M. Phillips, and Suntzeff. The Survey, formed after discussions at the Santa Cruz meeting on supernovae[6] and the encouragement by Allan R. Sandage to use Type Ia supernovae to measure the Hubble constant H0 and the deceleration parameter q0, ran from 1990–95, and provided the pioneering method to measure precision distances to external galaxies,[7] leading to a precise value of the Hubble constant.[8][9]

Continuing the work of the Calán/Tololo Survey, Suntzeff with Brian P. Schmidt co-founded the High-Z Supernova Search Team in 1994 that used observations of extragalactic supernovae to discover the accelerating universe.[10][11] This universal acceleration implies the existence of dark energy consistent with the cosmological constant of Einstein's theory of General Relativity, and was voted the top science breakthrough of 1998 by Science magazine.[12]

Prior to 2006, he was the Associate Director of Science at the US Adjunct Professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin.

Honors and awards

Ancestry and personal life

He is a native of San Francisco and grew up in Corte Madera, California. He is the paternal grandson of Matvei Andrianovich Evdokimov (1887–1920), one of the principal private arms manufacturers in czarist Russia, located in Izhevsk.[24] The Evdokimov factory in Izhevsk began in the 1860s by Andrian Nikandrovich Evdokimov (1844–1917)(Russian: Андриан Никандрович Евдокимов), and by 1890, was manufacturing Mosin–Nagant and Berdan rifles.[24][25] They continued production until the Russian Civil War in 1917. These rifles were used during the Revolution and WWI,[26] and were retooled for use during WWII, especially by the Finnish Army.

Although not supporters of the White cause, for their safety the family of Matvei fled east with Admiral Kolchak, the White Army, and the Czech Legion when the Whites captured Perm in 1918.[27] Matvei died at Manchurian Station (Manzhouli) near Chita. His only child, Nicholai Matveevich (1918–1995) continued with Matvei's wife Zoya Vasilevna Suntzeva (1897–1976), with the Suntzeff family to Harbin China and then to the San Francisco in 1928. Nicholai assumed the last name of his mother and immigrated into the US as Nicholas Matveevich Suntzeff. The Suntzeff family, prominent merchants from the Ural region,[28] came from Motovilikha (now part of Perm, Russia) and have ancestry in the Udmurt people.

Suntzeff is mentioned in the Alan Alda memoir, "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: and Other Things I've Learned."[29]


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  6. ^ Supernovae. The Tenth Santa Cruz Workshop in Astronomy and Astrophysics, held July 9–21, 1989, Lick Observatory. Editor, S.E. Woosley; Springer-Verlag, New York, 1991.
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External links

  • Carnegie Supernova Project
  • High-Z Supernova Team's web page
  • Nicholas B. Suntzeff, directory page at Texas A&M University
  • Nicholas B. Suntzeff, directory page at Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy
  • Nicholas B. Suntzeff, directory page at the IAU
  • Office of International Organization Affairs, US Department of State