Nobel prize in physics 2006

Post Reply
Pablo Fosalba
Posts: 29
Joined: September 25 2004
Affiliation: Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya
Contact:

Nobel prize in physics 2006

Post by Pablo Fosalba » October 03 2006

They just announced the nobel prize in physics 2006.
The laureates are J.C.Mather and G.Smoot
"for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation":
http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/phys ... ates/2006/

I think this is great news for the CMB community!

Pablo

Boud Roukema
Posts: 87
Joined: February 24 2005
Affiliation: Institute of Astronomy, Nicolaus Copernicus University
Contact:

Nobel prize in physics 2006

Post by Boud Roukema » October 03 2006

I think this is great news for the CMB community!
Except that it suggests that cosmology is not astronomy :P

On the other hand, I don't mind cosmology being part of physics :).

Anyway, it's great news, of course. :) Now /me has to answer a local journalist...

Boud Roukema
Posts: 87
Joined: February 24 2005
Affiliation: Institute of Astronomy, Nicolaus Copernicus University
Contact:

Nobel prize in physics 2006 - public domain photos of Smoot/

Post by Boud Roukema » October 03 2006

Does anyone know where there are some public domain "face" photos of George and/or John which a local newspaper can publish without copyright problems? i'm sure they're too busy to be worried about a local polish newspaper, but i'd rather get their photos in the paper than mine. I don't see why I should get credit for the COBE results...

Paddy Leahy
Posts: 5
Joined: April 11 2006
Affiliation: University of Manchester
Contact:

Nobel prize in physics 2006

Post by Paddy Leahy » October 03 2006

Hearty congratulations to John Mather and George Smoot, and to all who worked on FIRAS and DMR. A long-overdue award!

Boud: Google images will find you dozens of photos of both laureates.

Alessandro Melchiorri
Posts: 123
Joined: September 24 2004
Affiliation: University of Rome
Contact:

Nobel prize in physics 2006

Post by Alessandro Melchiorri » October 08 2006

Yes, congratulations to the winners: it is a very good thing for cosmology in general, I think.
On the other hand if I look at the list of discoveries and great scientists we had in cosmology and astrophysics in the past 40 years and who did'nt get the nobel prize I believe that the swedish academy lost too many opportunities. Hopefully they will correct this in the future.

For people interested in stories behind the COBE experiment I suggest the following book:

The Very First Light: The True Inside Story of the Scientific Journey Back to the Dawn of the Universe
by John C. Mather (Author), John Boslough (Author)

Editorial Reviews (taken from amazon)
From Publishers Weekly
In a top-notch scientific adventure, astrophysicist Mather, with an assist from freelance writer Boslough, tells how, as chief project scientist, he organized the team that designed, built and oversaw NASA's 1989 launch of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE). That satellite's instruments provided data widely believed to have verified the Big Bang theory of the universe's creation in a primordial explosion. In 1992 NASA scientists announced that COBE had detected minuscule fluctuations in the temperature and density of cosmic background radiation, a microwave energy suffusing the entire universe that is generally considered a remnant, or "afterbirth," of the Big Bang. These fluctuations were interpreted as an indication of "primordial seeds" in the early universe, giving rise to its present-day clumpiness (uneven distribution) of galaxies and galaxy clusters. This lucid, gracefully written narrative combines a suspenseful account of how the COBE team overcame technical and bureaucratic obstacles with a concise survey of modern cosmology from Edwin Hubble to Stephen Hawking. COBE team member George Smoot, a Berkeley physicist, violated team policy by leaking news of COBE's discoveries to the press before NASA's formal announcement, a leak that, to Mather, smacks of self-promotion and betrayal. This excellent insider's report complements and broadens the COBE story as presented in Smoot's Wrinkles in Times.

Tommy Anderberg
Posts: 47
Joined: November 24 2005
Affiliation: independent

Nobel prize in physics 2006

Post by Tommy Anderberg » October 08 2006

I never understood why everybody seems so hung up on a prize awarded by a bunch of Swedes. ;)

But on the subject of books about cosmologists, you just reminded me of a bittersweet reading experience from more than a decade ago, which I can't resist adding to your recommendation: Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, by Dennis Overbye. Although it came out in 1991, it barely mentions COBE in the epilogue. The way I remember it, it's mainly about theorists (brushed it off, all yellowed now after years of solitude on a shelf, and looked in the index: no Mather, no Smoot). The story which made it unforgettable for me was Vilenkin's. Ah, here it is, on page 366:
Born in the Soviet Union, Vilenkin had studied physics and received an undergraduate degree at Kharkov University in the Ukraine, but his professor couldn't get him into graduate school because Vilenkin was Jewish.

He studied an published on his own for five years. Then he was drafted into the army, where he worked as a lab assistant. When he got out all he could find was a job as a night watchman in a zoo. They gave him a rifle, which he didn't know how to shoot. The main qualification for that job was that he was not a drunkard. "There was a little booth," he explains, "where there was alcohol."

In 1976 he was able to emigrate to Italy. While he waited for a visa to the United States, he saw an ad for the State University of New York at Buffalo, so he applied and went there, a decision he now thinks maybe he rushed a little. In a year he had a Ph.D. in biophysics. Tufts hired him as a solid state physicist. "Nobody minded when I switched to cosmology."
Do they still make people like this?

Alessandro Melchiorri
Posts: 123
Joined: September 24 2004
Affiliation: University of Rome
Contact:

Nobel prize in physics 2006

Post by Alessandro Melchiorri » October 09 2006

What about George Gamow (no nobel prize...) then:

"George Gamow, a Russian astrophysicist and cosmologist, was a genius but he did not take science seriously. Yet he was a leading exponent of quantum mechanics. He tried twice to escape from Russia (then the Soviet Union), once by canoeing from Crimea, 170 miles across the Black Sea to Turkey. A severe storm drove him and his wife back to shore. A second attempt was to cross from Russia into Norway near Murmansk but the Russian Navy blocked his way. Eventually he was asked to leave and he got a job at George Washington University in Washington, DC."

Tommy Anderberg
Posts: 47
Joined: November 24 2005
Affiliation: independent

Re: Nobel prize in physics 2006

Post by Tommy Anderberg » December 10 2006

Alessandro Melchiorri wrote:What about George Gamow (no nobel prize...)
Alessandro made a very good point here a couple of months ago. Since today is The Day, a couple more quotes from Overbye's Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos seem in place:
Gamow's team disbanded in the late forties, its work derided and disdained. Some of them left science. Gamow himself retired and wrote popular books on science and cosmology that influenced the next generation.
[...]
During a BBC broadcast Hoyle referred to Gamow's theory derisively as "the big bang" and was amused when it became standard terminology.
[...]
Gamow's group had also suggested that the cooled remnants of the big bang radiation should still be around. In a paper published in Nature in 1949, two of his disciples, Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman, calculated that the present-day temperature of the universe should be about 5 K. Inexplicably, nobody followed up on this prediction; by the sixties it had been forgotten.
What happened in the sixties, two decades after Gamow's original work, was of course the accidental discovery of the CMB by Penzias and Wilson. Alas, the story did not take a turn for the better at this point:
Cautious to the end, the Bell Labs pair restricted themselves to a dry description of the radio data, eschewing all interpretation. "A possible explanation for the observed excess noise temperature is the one given by Dicke, Peebles, Roll and Wilkinson (1965) in a companion letter of this issue."
[...]
In Colorado, Gamow, by then retired, read the same newspaper accounts with an equal appreciation of their ramifications and with mounting indignation. Neither the Princeton nor the Bell Labs papers mentioned the Gamow group's prediction of the big bang radiation. He wrote an indignant letter to Dicke (who admitted he should have known better), pointing out various places the prediction had appeared in print. His indignation and sense of injustice never faded. Years later at a conference on the microwave radiation, Gamow said, "If I lose a nickel and someone finds a nickel, I can't prove it's my nickel. Still, I lost a nickel just where they found one." Disgusted, Alpher and Herman left physics.

The brouhaha about the authorship of the cosmic background radiation was a black eye for the scholarly gentlemanly traditions of cosmology [sic], and perhaps explains why Penzias and Wilson got the Nobel Prize in 1978 for its discovery, but nobody got a prize for predicting it.

Post Reply