Because it takes time for light to travel to Earth from the reaches of space, the farther one looks, the earlier in history one sees. Thus, questions about the formation of stars, galaxies, galactic clusters, and indeed about the beginning of the universe itself are addressed in cosmological investigations of primordial light from the heavens above. When the universe was born at the Big Bang, it was hot and dense, and high-energy light permeated the opaque universe. As the universe cooled and expanded, space became transparent and the light shifted to lower energy. This light, known as the cosmic microwave background, is the oldest reaching earth today.
Dr. George F. Smoot III has made an impressive career in astrophysics and cosmology studying the cosmic microwave background and is a perfect choice to speak at Nobel Conference 49 about the universe at its (early) limit. Dr. Smoot’s research has measured the microwave background in progressively finer detail. And with each level of detail more has been learned about the beginnings of the universe. His earliest studies helped confirm the background was indeed a remnant of the Big Bang. Then, in 1989, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) mission was launched into space. This mission successfully detected the small variations (anisotropies) in the background that were the precursors to the formation of galactic clusters and earned Dr. Smoot the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics. Dr. Smoot’s more recent research continues to explore the microwave background; he also has projects in dark energy and infrared astronomy.
Dr. Smoot earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics in 1966 and a Ph.D. in particle physics in 1970 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is currently a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Paris Diderot University. He is also a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In addition to his Nobel Prize, he has numerous other awards, including the 1992 NASA Medal for Exceptional Science Achievement, the 2003 Einstein Medal, and the 2009 Oersted Medal.
Please join us for Nobel Conference 49, “The Universe at Its Limits,” on October 1 & 2, to learn more about Dr. Smoots’s work on the structure of the early universe. Tickets are now on sale. For ticket information and information about the conference, the speakers, and the Nobel concert, visit gustavus.edu/NobelConference.