Published March 25, 2015

A ‘big bang’ speaker

Mather, Nobel laureate in physics, to give MC’s Whiteman Lecture on April 7
  • NASA/Bill Ingalls
Nobel Prize winner John Mather, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, will deliver Monmouth College’s annual Wendell Whiteman Memorial Lecture on April 7 at 11 a.m. in the Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.
 
Titled “The History of the Universe:  How We Got Here and Where We Are Going,” his lecture is free and open to the public. While on campus, Mather will speak to a class and tour the college’s new Adolphson Observatory, which is being outfitted with a research-grade 20-inch telescope.
 
Mather won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work as project scientist for NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which measured the spectrum 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. The COBE team also made the first map of the hot and cold spots in the background radiation (anisotropy), which essentially confirmed the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. Their discovery was called “the most important scientific discovery of the century, if not of all time” by noted theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. That work led to his Nobel Prize, which Mather shared with George Smoot.
 
“We take pride in bringing distinguished speakers to our campus, and we are particularly fortunate to have Dr. Mather with us,” said Monmouth College president Clarence Wyatt. “His achievements truly do inspire us to reach for the stars.”
 
During his lecture, Mather will tell the story of the Big Bang, how it could have produced an Earth where sentient beings can live, and how those beings are discovering their history. He will explain Einstein’s “biggest mistake,” 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.
 
Mather 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 and will peer inside the dusty cocoons where stars and planets are being born today. The telescope is capable of examining Earth-like planets around other stars using the transit technique, and future missions may find signs of life. 
 
Also the recipient of the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, Mather is a member of many professional societies including the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received his bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College with highest honors in physics in 1968, earned the highest possible score on the physics GRE, and received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California-Berkeley.
          
The Whiteman Lecture Series brings prominent leaders of American business and industry to the Monmouth College campus. It is named in memory of Wendell Whiteman, an alumnus of the college and long-time executive of Security Savings Bank in Monmouth. Although Mather’s science background does not make him a traditional Whiteman Lecturer, his work with NASA increasingly crosses into the business sector, particularly regarding funding. The growing interdependence between science and business was the inspiration for the development of the college’s new Center for Science and Business.
 
Mather will be the second Nobel laureate to be featured in the lecture series. Robert Solow, who won the 1987 Nobel Prize in economic sciences, spoke in 1988.
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