Cosmic Background Explorer team wins Gruber Prize

August 15, 2006

Berkeley, CA -- John Mather, Project Scientist of NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer satellite mission, and eighteen members of COBE's Science Working Group, including George Smoot of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have jointly received the 2006 Gruber Cosmology Prize for their ground-breaking studies of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The COBE experiments not only confirmed that the universe was born in a big bang but shed light on its subsequent structure.

The Gruber Prize was awarded at the opening ceremony of the International Astronomical Union's General Assembly in Prague on Tuesday, August 15. In response to news of the prize, Smoot said, "We are pleased that the work and results of the COBE scientists, engineers, and staff are being honored by the Gruber Foundation. It was such a pleasure first to participate in COBE's discoveries, and then again to have them recognized."

Smoot is a member of Berkeley Lab's Physics Division and a professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley. He became interested in cosmology while at MIT, where he received his Ph.D. in 1970. After he joined UC Berkeley he continued to pursue questions in astrophysics and realized that the relic radiation from the big bang would be a unique and useful tool to probe cosmology.

The CMB is the remnant of radiation that has filled the universe since the moment, some 300,000 years after the big bang, when the universe cooled enough for protons and electrons to form hydrogen atoms -- freeing photons from what had been a hot primordial soup of subatomic particles. Ever since that time these energetic photons have been traveling through space, their wavelength now stretched to microwave scale and their frequency reduced to the equivalent of radiation from a black body at only 2.73 degrees Kelvin.

Among the CMB's most interesting features are minute variations in its temperature in different parts of the sky. Smoot proposed that differential microwave radiometers (DMRs) be carried aboard a satellite to map these differences. His proposal and those of other investigators were combined in the COBE experiment, NASA's first dedicated cosmology mission, which after many setbacks was finally launched late in 1989. The experiments aboard COBE included three DMRs, with Smoot as principal investigator, a far infrared absolute spectrophotometer (FIRAS), with John Mather as PI, and the diffuse infrared background experiment (DIRBE), with Michael Hauser as PI.

After years of data analysis, COBE's results confirmed that the cosmic microwave background had indeed originated in the big bang and, from the DMR data, revealed tiny but regular temperature fluctuations, or "wrinkles" in its structure. Variations in the CMB are now recognized as the seeds of the intricate large-scale structures that exist everywhere in the cosmos.

In subsequent years, ever finer measurements of the CMB from balloon-borne experiments like BOOMERANG and MAXIMA and from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) have yielded new information about the history of the universe, the evolution of its structures, and even what unknown "stuff" it contains, including mysterious dark matter and dark energy. Many of these projects have been supported by the Department of Energy's Office of Science, as well as by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

All subsequent CMB studies owe much to COBE, which revealed that the universe is filled with diffuse infrared radiation from previously unknown galaxies and proved that the universe indeed began in a hot big bang, from which evolved a dense, almost uniform soup containing weak fluctuations that grew into today's galaxies and stars.

The Gruber Cosmology Prize consists of a gold medal and $250,000 in cash, half of which is awarded to Mather, with the rest divided by COBE Science Working Group members Charles Bennett, Nancy Boggess, Edward Cheng, Eli Dwek, Samuel Gulkis, Michael Hauser, Michael Janssen, Thomas Kelsall, Philip Lubin, Stephan Meyer, S. Harvey Moseley, Thomas Murdock, Richard Shafer, Robert Silverberg, George Smoot, Rainer Weiss, the estate of David Wilkinson (deceased), and Edward Wright.
The Peter Gruber Foundation, based in the Virgin Islands, supports five international awards, in Cosmology, Justice, Genetics, Neuroscience, and Women's Rights.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California. Visit our website at

DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Related Radiation Articles from Brightsurf:

Sheer protection from electromagnetic radiation
A printable ink that is both conductive and transparent can also block radio waves.

What membrane can do in dealing with radiation
USTC recently found that polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can release acidic substance under γ radiation, whose amount is proportional to the radiation intensity.

First measurements of radiation levels on the moon
In the current issue (25 September) of the prestigious journal Science Advances, Chinese and German scientists report for the first time on time-resolved measurements of the radiation on the moon.

New biomaterial could shield against harmful radiation
Northwestern University researchers have synthesized a new form of melanin enriched with selenium.

A new way to monitor cancer radiation therapy doses
More than half of all cancer patients undergo radiation therapy and the dose is critical.

Nimotuzumab-cisplatin-radiation versus cisplatin-radiation in HPV negative oropharyngeal cancer
Oncotarget Volume 11, Issue 4: In this study, locally advanced head and neck cancer patients undergoing definitive chemoradiation were randomly allocated to weekly cisplatin - radiation {CRT arm} or nimotuzumab -weekly cisplatin -radiation {NCRT arm}.

Breaking up amino acids with radiation
A new experimental and theoretical study published in EPJ D has shown how the ions formed when electrons collide with one amino acid, glutamine, differ according to the energy of the colliding electrons.

Radiation breaks connections in the brain
One of the potentially life-altering side effects that patients experience after cranial radiotherapy for brain cancer is cognitive impairment.

Fragmenting ions and radiation sensitizers
The anti-cancer drug 5-fluorouracil (5FU) acts as a radiosensitizer: it is rapidly taken up into the DNA of cancer cells, making the cells more sensitive to radiotherapy.

'Seeing the light' behind radiation therapy
Delivering just the right dose of radiation for cancer patients is a delicate balance in their treatment regime.

Read More: Radiation News and Radiation Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to