Charles Bennett was born in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1956, and grew up in Bethesda, MD. He received a B.S. degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1978, and a PhD in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984. He also spent three summers as a Trainee Fellow in astronomical instrumentation at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, in Washington D.C.
Bennett was one of the leading members of the Cosmic Background Explorer team. The observations from that satellite showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation—a nearly uniform image of the universe when it was only 378,000 years old (as determined by WMAP)—contains the seeds of structure formation that validate the Big Bang interpretation of the universe’s evolution. He then led the follow-up experiment, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. Over the past decade, the WMAP science team has given us by far the most precise measures of the universe’s age, content, origin, and geometry.
From 1984 through 2004 Bennett was as an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. During that period, from 1994 to 2000, he served as the head of the Infrared Astrophysics Branch. He later spent a year at Goddard as a Senior Scientist for Experimental Cosmology before joining the faculty of Johns Hopkins University in 2005, where he is now the Alumni Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy and a Gilman Scholar.
Throughout his career Bennett has specialized in astronomical instrumentation and cosmology, fields that require familiarity with the humblest nuts and bolts and remotest space and time. For those efforts he has received numerous leadership and performance awards from NASA.
Bennett was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2005. He has also been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society. Among other awards and honors, he has received the Henry Draper Medal as well as the Comstock Prize in Physics from the National Academy of Sciences, the Harvey Prize, and he shared the Shaw Prize in 2010 with two other leaders of WMAP, Lyman Page, Jr., and David Spergel.