Alex Filippenko, PhD

1979 Hertz Fellow

Alexei (Alex) Filippenko, PhD, is a Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, and a Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences, at UC Berkeley.

Alex and his collaborators are determining the nature of the progenitor stars and the explosion mechanisms of different types of supernovae (exploding stars) and gamma-ray bursts. He is also using supernovae as cosmological distance indicators, and he was the only person to have been a member of both teams that discovered (in 1998) the accelerating expansion of the Universe, probably driven by “dark energy” — a discovery that was honored with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics to the teams’ leaders. He also works on quantifying the physical properties of quasars and active galaxies, and he searches for black holes in both X-ray binary stars and nearby galactic nuclei. His group developed the 0.76-meter Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope (KAIT) at Lick Observatory, which conducted one of the world’s most successful searches for relatively nearby supernovae, discovering nearly 1000 of them. He is a frequent user of Lick Observatory, the 10-meter Keck telescopes, the Hubble Space Telescope, and (most recently) the James Webb Space Telescope.

Alex’s accomplishments, documented in almost 1100 research papers, have been recognized by several major prizes, including a share of both the Gruber Cosmology Prize (2007) and the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (2015). One of the world’s most highly cited astrophysicists, he is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (2009) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2015), and he is an elected Fellow of the American Astronomical Society (AAS; 2021). In 2017, he was selected for one of only two recipients of the Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award. He has won the most prestigious teaching awards at UC Berkeley and has also been voted the “Best Professor” on campus a record 9 times. Selected in 2006 as the Carnegie/CASE National Professor of the Year among doctoral institutions, he has also received the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Richard H. Emmons Award for undergraduate teaching (2010) and the AAS’s Education Prize (2022). He produced five astronomy video courses with The Great Courses, coauthored an award-winning astronomy textbook (5 editions), and appears in more than 120 TV documentaries, including about 50 episodes of “The Universe” series. He has given more than 1000 public lectures or other presentations, and he was awarded the 2004 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization. With his Hertz Fellowship, Alex pursued his PhD in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology.

Outside of the lab, Alex is an avid tennis player, hiker, runner, skier, whitewater rafter, snorkeler, and scuba diver. He enjoys world travel and loves to experience total solar eclipses (18, so far).

Graduate Studies

California Institute of Technology
Physical Conditions in Low-Luminosity Active Galactic Nuclei

Undergraduate Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara


1984, Miller Fellowship, Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science, UC Berkeley
1989, Presidential Young Investigator, National Science Foundation
1992, Newton Lacy Pierce Prize, American Astronomical Society (AAS)
1997, Robert M. Petrie Prize, Canadian Astronomical Society
2001, Guggenheim Fellow, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
2004, Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization, Wonderfest
2006, Carnegie/CASE National Professor of the Year
2007, Gruber Cosmology Prize
2007, Richtmyer Memorial Award, American Association of Physics Teachers
2009, Member, National Academy of Sciences; 2010, Richard H. Emmons Award for
undergraduate teaching, Astronomical Society of the Pacific
2015, Member, American Academy of Arts & Sciences
2015, Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
2017, Distinguished Alumni Award, Caltech
2017, Miller Senior Fellowship, Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science, UC Berkeley
2021, Fellow, AAS
2022, Education Prize, AAS