BERKELEY (CBS SF) – Saul Perlmutter, head of the Supernova Cosmology Project at the University of California, Berkeley was awakened early Tuesday to learn he was one of three scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in physics.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says Perlmutter will share the $1.5 million award with US-Australian Brian Schmidt and US scientist Adam Riess for discovering that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

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“Nobody really expects a Nobel Prize call,” Perlmutter told The Associated Press by telephone shortly after Tuesday’s announcement in Stockholm.

Perlmutter woke up in his Berkeley home to a telephone call from a reporter in Sweden before dawn asking for his reaction.

“How do I feel about what?” the 52-year-old asked.

No one from the Royal Academy had contacted him. His wife did a quick check online to confirm it wasn’t a hoax.

KCBS’ Bob Melrose Reports:

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The Royal Academy said Perlmutter, Riess and Schmidt discovered the rate at which the universe is expanding was speeding up “through observations of distant supernovae.”

Their discoveries “have helped to unveil a universe that to a large extent is unknown to science,” the citation said.

“This is the kind of discovery that resonates,” Perlmutter said.

“The original project began because we know the universe is expanding,” he said. “Everybody had assumed that gravity would slow down the expansion of the universe and everything would come to a halt and collapse.”

“The big surprise was it was actually speeding up.”

Paul Preuss, spokesman for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where Perlmutter does his research, said there will be a news conference later Tuesday morning.

Asked for his reaction to the news, Preuss said: “So far it’s frantic. We knew Saul would win it one of these years, we just didn’t know it would be this year. We are, of course, elated.”

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