Nobel Laureate John Mather '68 to Present McCabe Lecture at Swarthmore College

Anita Pace

For Immediate Release: October 16, 2007
Contact: Anita Pace

Nobel Laureate John Mather'68 to Present McCabe Lecture at Swarthmore College

John C. Mather '68, chief scientist for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters and senior astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, will present the annual Thomas B. McCabe Lecture at Swarthmore College, titled "From the Big Bang to the Nobel Prize and on to the James Webb Space Telescope," on Thursday, October 25, at 7 p.m. in the Science Center, room 101. The talk is free and open to the public.

Mather will tell the story of how we got here, how the Universe began with a Big Bang, how it could have produced an earth where sentient beings can live, and how those beings are discovering their history. Mather was project scientist for NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which measured the spectrum (the color) of the heat radiation from the Big Bang, discovered hot and cold spots in that radiation, and hunted for the first objects that formed after the great explosion. He will explain Einstein's biggest mistake, show how Edwin Hubble discovered the expansion of the universe, how the COBE mission was built, and how the COBE data support the Big Bang theory. He will also show NASA's plans for the next great telescope in space, the James Webb Space Telescope. It will look even farther back in time than the Hubble Space Telescope, and will look inside the dusty cocoons where stars and planets are being born today. Planned for launch in 2013, it may lead to another Nobel Prize for some lucky observer.

Mather's research centers on infrared astronomy and cosmology. As an NRC postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, he led the proposal efforts for the Cosmic Background Explorer (1974-1976) and came to GSFC to be the study scientist (1976-1988), project scientist (1988-1998), and the principal investigator for the Far IR Absolute Spectrophotometer on COBE. He showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation has a blackbody spectrum within 50 parts per million, confirming the Big Bang theory to extraordinary accuracy.

As senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, Mather leads the science team and represents scientific interests within the project management. He is the recipient of many awards, including the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics with George Smoot for the COBE work.

The McCabe Memorial Fund honors Swarthmore benefactor Thomas B. McCabe, Class of 1915, and funds the lectureship to bring individuals with distinguished careers to campus.