Dr. John C. Mather

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    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


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    Cosmic background explorer

    Scholarpedia, 3(3):4732
    (with Dr. Gary F. Hinshaw)

    Dr. John C. Mather

    The Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist John C. Mather was born into a family of scientists in Roanoke, Virginia in 1946. He developed a love of science early on, which led him to study physics at Swarthmore College, where he graduated in 1968 with highest honors. He then went to University of California, Berkeley and studied cosmic microwave background radiation under the tutelage of Paul L. Richards, where he received his Ph.D. in physics in 1974. Dr. Mather then became a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City until 1976, where he led a team to propose the COsmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite mission to study cosmic microwave background radiation.

    After his post-doctoral research he was hired by NASA, in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. Mather became one of the three principal investigators of the COBE mission, in charge of the Far Infrared Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS). The FIRAS showed that the cosmic microwave background has the predicted blackbody spectrum to within 50 parts per million, confirming the expanding universe theory to extraordinary accuracy. The team also discovered minute variations in the background radiation, called primary temperature anisotropy, which are tracks left behind from the first nanoseconds of the universe. This finding confirmed predictions made by the big bang theory and the standard model of the universe (with dark matter and dark energy); and led to two additional space missions, WMAP and Planck. John Mather and George Smoot jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006 for their work on this mission.

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