March 12, 2007 -- John Mather, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a professor at the University of Maryland, will give the 37th annual Hoxton Lecture in Physics on Thurs., March 22, at 7:30 p.m. in the Chemistry Building Auditorium (Room 402). The title of Mather’s talk is, “From the Big Bang to the Nobel Prize.” A reception will follow.
Mather shared the 2006 Nobel Prize with his colleague, George Smoot of the University of California, Berkeley, for their measurements of the “fossil” microwave radiation left over from the Big Bang. The work of Mather and Smoot and their colleagues has contributed to a deeper understanding of the evolution of the universe in its early stages. Using the COBE Cosmic Background Explorer satellite to make detailed measurements of the variation of this radiation from point to point in the sky, they detected differences at the level of one part in 100,000. These differences map the density variations of matter in the early universe to give a “photo” of the universe some 300,000 years after the big bang. Without these variations there would be no “seed” for the galaxies and stars to form. This technique has spawned a second generation of satellite detectors called the Wilkerson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), continuing this seminal work with greater precision.
In the early part of the 20th century, it was thought that the universe was static and stable with the stars and galaxies having a net zero motion with respect to one another. Astronomers such as Edwin Hubble subsequently discovered that the universe is expanding, rather than static. This became known as the Big Bang. For the better part of 100 years the standard view of the universe was that its expansion rate was gradually slowing down under the influence of the gravity of its components. The question was only whether the universe would come to a stop and fall back in on itself, come to a halt at infinite time, or continue to expand forever. The discovery that the expansion rate of the universe is actually increasing under the effect of what has become known as Dark Energy has in the last few years changed the mindset in place since Hubble’s observations. The Big Bang is continuing!
Llewellyn G. Hoxton, for whom the lecture series is named, was a professor of physics at U.Va. and served as department chairman from 1907 to 1948. Throughout those years Hoxton considered it to be of great importance to convey to students the excitement of new developments in physics.
The Hoxton Lectures were inaugurated by the Department of Physics in 1971 to share the viewpoints of physicists on topics where their expertise may offer new insights. These free lectures are intended to be interesting and provocative.
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