Nobelprize.org
Nobel Prizes and Laureates


Nobel Prizes and Laureates

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2006
John C. Mather, George F. Smoot

Share this:

John C. Mather - Biographical

I was born on Aug. 7, 1946 in Roanoke, Virginia, a small city near Blacksburg where my father was a young faculty member at the school now called Virginia Tech. For some generations, my family on both sides has been populated with scientists and school teachers. My father, Robert E. Mather, was starting his research career in animal husbandry and statistics, specializing in dairy cattle breeding and feeding, having just received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin. My mother, Martha Cromwell Mather, was teaching high school French. When I was about a year and a half old, my parents moved to the Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station, also known as the Dairy Research Station, in Sussex County, New Jersey. This is a very peaceful farming area, in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians, and our house was just a mile from Appalachian Trail. James Turner, a stockbroker from Montclair, New Jersey, and originally Scottish from Glasgow, founded the experiment station in 1931 I believe. So my childhood from age 1 to 15 was spent in that house, at the top of a long hill, looking over a valley filled with fields and farms and forests. My earliest memory is of a medical procedure in the hospital in Sussex – I had my tonsils out when I was about 2.5 years old, and they gave me ice cream. Our home looked out at a barn where 20 bulls were kept, and they were the sires of half the cows of northern New Jersey. Within a few yards of the house was an office building where the analysis of the experiments was done. Down the hill past the barn was a laboratory with calorimeters, chemical analysis equipment, liquid nitrogen tanks for keeping semen frozen until it was needed, some radioisotope equipment for studying metabolism, and so forth. As I understand it, my dad was responsible for developing a test that measured the protein content of milk, and thus indirectly for the re-optimization of the dairy industry to produce more protein and less butter. Later on, he became one of the early users of computers, and had the milk production records of 10,000 cows on punched IBM cards.

I attended Wantage Consolidated Elementary School near Sussex, N.J., which had about 600 students, and was established in the 1930's so that the one-room schoolhouses in the area could be closed. So I rode a big yellow school bus to school, along with many other students, most of them children of independent farmers. Their farm labors made them very strong, and our school athletes excelled at baseball and wrestling, but I was not among the athletes. I was much more interested in reading everything that came my way, hiding a book behind the desk while the other students learned from class. My interest in science started quite early. My earliest school recollection, from age 6, is actually of mathematics, realizing that one could fill an entire page with digits and never come to the largest possible number, so I saw what was meant by infinity. I recall that my parents took my sister and me a few times to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, after a journey of at least two hours, which to me seemed forever. The first time, Mars was very close to the Earth, and there was great excitement about whether the canals could be seen. My father bought a small telescope from Sears Roebuck, but of course it could not show the canals, and Mars was extremely small even with the telescope. He also bought a book Astronomy Made Simple, which got me started. My parents also enjoyed reading aloud from various books, including biographies of Darwin and Galileo. I was fascinated with the museum displays of the sequence of different kinds of skeletons of fishes, showing their changes through time, so evolution was quite the obvious conclusion even to a child. I liked thinking about geology and hunting for fossils in the roadside streams, as I built little dams of mud and pebbles. I didn't really appreciate what science was about yet, but it sounded very exciting, and a little dangerous in case one discovered things that were not consistent with previous knowledge, especially religious thought. In later years, I occasionally dreamed of being in court, defending the right to teach evolution in the schools. My mother's father, Hobart Cromwell, was a bacteriologist with Abbott Laboratories in suburban Chicago. I never got to know him well, as he died very young, but he was always a heroic figure in our family, wise and gentle and intelligent by reputation, with the courage to fight against the McCarthyites.

By the time I was in fourth grade (age = grade + 5 years) I was already pretty sure I liked scientific and engineering things, including electronics. For Christmas I got a one-tube radio kit, and then I saved my allowance for a 5-tube shortwave Heathkit radio that I put together so I could listen to exotic languages and broadcasts from far-away places. Around that time, the IGY (International Geophysical Year) was starting up, and at our spot in New Jersey it was marked by a fabulous bright aurora, the only one I've every seen. I think 4th grade also marked my first entry into the school Science Fair, and I submitted 4 little projects. Hardly anyone else at the school was much interested in science at the time, but I had one friend who walked several miles to come visit us at our house and talk about these things. We did have a Bookmobile, a traveling library from the County that visited the farms every couple of weeks, and I borrowed as much as I could. I started reading about optics, and I saved my allowance and ordered some lenses from Edmund Scientific and assembled small refractor telescopes. One summer my parents sent me off to a summer camp in the Poconos, a place that stood out because it had a science program. Another summer, they sent me to a day camp with the high school science teacher in Newton, New Jersey, Ben Cummings. With him, we climbed a hillside near High Point State Park and came back with bags of trilobites. And one year, I wanted to do a science fair project with a "robot" that I designed with vacuum tubes and remote controls. It never worked but I got a lot of experience, and now looking back on it I recognize that my parents contributed a substantial research grant when I was only about 11. So I had a lot of opportunity to learn science, even in our very rural setting.

When I finished 8th grade, it was time to go to high school, and my parents decided to send me to Newton High School, where they thought we would get the best available education in our area. That turned out well for me, and I had some excellent teachers in science, math, and English that I really liked. I took biology in 9th grade, chemistry in 10th grade, and physics in 11th grade. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to go away to summer schools. After 10th grade I went to Assumption College for about 10 weeks to learn about the foundations of mathematics, and after 11th grade I went to Cornell University for a summer physics program. That was truly extraordinary for me, with an introduction to quantum mechanics, special relativity, optics, nuclear physics, and cosmology. Coming back from these programs, having done fairly well, I was convinced that I could have a future in science, and I was very glad to have a head start relative to others of my age. The National Science Foundation sponsored these summer programs, and they certainly did a wonderful thing for us. I competed in the nationwide math contest and placed 7th in New Jersey, I think, and in a statewide physics contest I placed first. With all this success I was feeling pretty good, but my parents reminded me frequently that I would still have to work hard in college, since I had been a big fish in a little pond, and I didn't know what was yet to come in the big world.

I never got very excited about dairy cattle, but my father did help me learn two important things, statistics and calculus. For one of my science fair projects, I had 8 baby rats that I kept in cages under the table in the kitchen, and I fed them various diets to see what they needed. My mother must have had immense patience with me to allow me to have my experiment there. My dad showed me how to design a Greco-Latin square for the experiment, and how to do the analysis of variance. The answer: dog food and vitamins are good, and corn flakes alone are inadequate. One summer, he returned to college to learn calculus himself, and when he got home I borrowed his textbook and studied it instead of taking an advanced science course in high school. This was another way of getting a little ahead of my cohort, and when I got to college it was a good thing.

I chose Swarthmore for college, largely because the atmosphere felt good and the faculty promised a complete education in physics. I tried without much success to learn a little of the humanities and the arts, but even passing the courses in art history and music history was a challenge. In those courses I understood what other folks felt when they saw me doing so well in physics; I knew it was hopeless to compete on that territory, but I persevered and even took up piano lessons again, with enjoyment but not skill or talent. I jumped a little ahead again, skipping the second half of freshman physics and diving right into sophomore physics. I got a lot of special attention from the faculty there and really appreciated it. I was in the honors program, with four seminars in math and four in physics and two in astronomy. When it was time to graduate, David Wilkinson, a young professor at Princeton, was one of my honors examiners. He asked me a question about everyday effects of relativity, and I said that magnetism was a relativistic effect of electron motion, or something like that. Years later, David was a founding member of the COBE team.

For graduate school I chose Princeton, and was making plans to go there, when a friend Ted Chang, who was my friend at Assumption College for a high school summer, sent me a photo of himself sitting on the fountain in Berkeley in January, wearing short sleeves. He sent me an application form for a summer job, and I went. As it happened, my job was at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, working with Henry Frisch on control electronics for a spark chamber. Henry's father was a physicist too, and taught my co-Nobelist George Smoot. I liked Berkeley, and changed my mind about Princeton. Being a little churlish, I wrote to Princeton and told them that I was withdrawing because they had no women students. I was fortunate that my fellowship from the National Science Foundation was portable, so switching was easy.

At Berkeley, I found a big old brown shingle house to share, and my rent was very low. The household was organized by John Hauptman, another physics student, and held about 8 other people. Roy Torbert, now a space physicist at UNH , was a member of our little group. One household member, Richard Rotblatt, was a former architecture student and nuclear reactor piping engineer, and he was also an excellent chef. Now he's an accomplished wine maker as well. For a while my best friend from high school lived with us after returning from Vietnam. This old house could tell many stories of the times, with people of all sorts moving in and out.

At first, I thought I wanted to be an elementary particle physicist like my hero Richard Feynman. I took my courses for two years, during which my faith in my future was being challenged by the Vietnam War and by the Peoples' Park demonstrations that rocked the city. Governor Ronald Reagan's helicopters tear-gassed the campus, and people were seriously injured, but I tried to stay out of this trouble and had little sympathy with either side. Because I was very nearsighted, I was not drafted to be a soldier, so I didn't have to really deal with the great issue of principle that involved so many of my classmates. For a while I considered studying the law, in order to defend the country from the Government of the day, but when I read the course catalog I couldn't imagine studying those subjects. Now as a long-time Government employee my perspective has changed a bit. I also talked with my plasma physics professor about developing nuclear fusion power for the good of humanity, but he seemed to think this would be an extremely long and difficult project, as it has turned out to be.

So in 1970 I was looking for a thesis project, and interviewed with various faculty members. I found that Paul Richards was working with Charles Townes and a young postdoc Michael Werner to start up projects on the newly discovered Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. I liked all three of them immediately, as well as the proposed experiment, and I started right in. It was a new world for me, much more tangible than years of books and classes and late nights in the library. The first project was to build a small far infrared spectrometer to take to the Barcroft station on White Mountain in eastern California, where the University was studying physiology at high altitudes. This project worked out well, but was of course limited in accuracy by the interference of the Earth's atmosphere. We were able to set some interesting limits on the CMBR intensity, and we got a few publications from them. Then, Paul went off to England on a sabbatical and came back with a concept for a new experiment, a balloon-borne far infrared interferometer to measure the CMBR spectrum. He explained it to the graduate students, and David Woody and I started trying to work out and build the design. This was the beginning of a baptism by fire, in the art of building instruments that would work in remote and hostile locations. It was a time to learn something of almost every area of engineering, from mechanical to optical to cryogenics to electronics. I'm afraid that my skill was stronger in understanding than it was in implementation, and it's a true story that the antenna on the balloon payload fell off while it was on the launch pad. It was my solder joint that failed. Fortunately this fault was noticed, and the payload was launched successfully.

However, it also was true that we had gotten tired of testing, and our instrument did not work, for three different reasons. It was an awful feeling, one that stayed with me for the rest of my life, and it was one of those ways of learning what one does not want to learn. Murphy's law had been proven one more time. Also, I wanted to finish my thesis, and had already lined up a job in New York as a postdoc with Pat Thaddeus. So Paul agreed, and my thesis described the ground-based work and the design for the balloon instrument. David Woody designed a test chamber for the payload, a cubical box of Styrofoam and plywood, and filled it with dry ice. He found out why the instrument had failed, fixed it, and made it work right for the second flight, the summer after I left Berkeley for New York. He analyzed and published the data and got his thesis out of the project too. Now he's a radio astronomer at CalTech, designing antennas for the new ALMA observatory in Chile.

With Pat Thaddeus at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a part of NASA housed in a building adjacent to Columbia University, I was hoping to go into a new field of study. I thought that my work on the background radiation was awfully difficult, and it was going to be hard to do much better with balloons. I suppose I was reacting too much to the failure of the instrument. At any rate, I arrived in New York at the end of January 1974, only days before the last possible allowed date, and I started theoretical and observational work on naturally occurring SiO masers. I learned how to build a microwave receiver with brilliant machinists and technicians, and I took it off to McDonald Observatory in Texas and to the Navy's Maryland Point observatory on the Potomac. We did observe the SiO emission at 43 GHz, which had never been seen before in space, and I made a little progress writing a giant Fortran program on the IBM 360 computer, but it never came to anything, and years later I threw many boxes of IBM cards into the trash, finally admitting defeat.

However, in the summer after I arrived, my trajectory took another abrupt turn when NASA issued Announcements of Opportunity 6 and 7, for Scout and Delta-launched satellite missions. My optimism was returning, and when Pat asked for ideas, I cheerfully asserted that my thesis experiment would have worked a lot better in space. He suggested that I call up Rainer Weiss, David Wilkinson, and Michael Hauser, and with their colleagues Dirk Muehlner and Bob Silverberg together we conceived of the new mission. It would have four instruments, a far IR interferometer to measure the CMBR spectrum, two instruments to measure its anisotropy (difference in brightness in different directions), and an instrument to hunt for the diffuse IR background from the first galaxies. Then, the balloon payload flew successfully after David Woody fixed it, and things were looking up. We sent in our proposal, typed by hand on real typewriters, and I at any rate thought that our odds of success were very low. None of us had any prior experience with space missions, and none of us knew that there would be about 150 other proposals, or that two of those (from JPL and Berkeley) would be direct competitors for ours. However, NASA was interested after all. There was already a negotiation with the Netherlands and the UK to build the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS). Ball Aerospace built the US part of the IRAS. So, the first expression of interest in our idea was to see whether the spectrometer could be miniaturized and given a ride to space as some part of the IRAS. I got a little money to study it, and I presented my concept to the IRAS science team at a meeting near Amsterdam. It went over with a resounding thud, for good reasons. I am very glad I never had to build this version of the instrument I had conceived, but I did learn a lot about what could be done, and I learned about the IRAS mission, which was to have a large helium cryostat much like the one we needed for the COBE.

So in the fall of 1976, NASA decided formally to study our concept, but not just with our team. Nancy Boggess, the Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters for infrared astronomy, appointed four members of our original team (Hauser, Weiss, Wilkinson, and me), along with George Smoot of UC Berkeley and Sam Gulkis of JPL, to form a Mission Definition Science Team. Anticipating this event, Mike Hauser had offered me a job at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, so I was already in place as a proper civil servant. We were assigned a manager, Martin Donohoe, and we were to compete with about 11 other missions that were also viewed as promising. Our little team elected a Chairman (Rainer Weiss), and three Principal Investigators (me, Mike Hauser, and George Smoot), and NASA assigned me the job of Study Scientist, to work with the engineering team to make this project happen. So this was the beginning of the COBE satellite project. Mike Hauser, who had hired me, was my main mentor, and I have learned to seek his advice whenever times are tough. Among all my colleagues, Mike is my greatest hero and example to follow.

We submitted our report, and the results were favorable, so NASA assigned us a larger team of seasoned engineers, namely the team that had almost finished the IUE (International Ultraviolet Explorer), led by Jerry Longangecker. This was a time when the Space Shuttle was being considered by Congress, and NASA made a deal that would set its future for a long time: all new launches would be made with the Shuttle, and all the expendable rockets like the Deltas would be canceled. We argued but we had no success, and we had to redesign the COBE to go on the Space Shuttle. This wasn't so easy, since the COBE needed a polar orbit, achieved by a launch from California, at around 900 km altitude. Most of the Shuttles would be launched from Cape Canaveral (then called Cape Kennedy), so our requirement was a challenge in any case. By around 1979, NASA decided to build the COBE satellite in-house at Goddard, meaning that engineers and scientists at Goddard would work together very closely. This is an exception to the usual way that NASA obtains satellites, which is by writing contracts to major aerospace organizations and university laboratories. In our case, two of the three Principal Investigators were already at Goddard, and the third (George Smoot at Berkeley) was willing to have Goddard build that instrument too, so this new arrangement was very good for us. We had daily interactions with our engineering colleagues, we could walk into any laboratory to talk about any problem, and we made significant forward progress, and I really enjoyed that part. On the other hand, part of the deal was that our project was a training project for new engineers, and a reservoir for talent. When other projects got into trouble, our team was raided for top talent to go solve emergencies elsewhere, and of course there were many of those. I was very frustrated about this, but I had to admit, the Hubble Space Telescope really did have priority.

In 1980, I made a major decision, to marry Jane Hauser (no relation to Mike). I had met Jane in New York back in 1974 while I was taking a workshop in re-evaluation counseling, one of many personal growth experiences that I sought as a part of my emotional education. (My sister Janet became a teacher of this subject for many years, and so did one of my many bosses at Goddard.) Jane is a ballet teacher, but she was taking computer programming and math courses as she completed her undergraduate education, and I was very impressed. So on Nov. 22, 1980, a hundred scientists, engineers, and dancers threw us a potluck banquet after our wedding, and I have never seen so much good feeling and good food at one time and place, at least until I arrived in Stockholm. Jane has been my life partner, my best friend, my best editor, and my best advisor ever since. With her I have traveled to many amazing places, and become quite fascinated with understanding how ancient civilizations managed to accomplish their engineering feats. We've seen Tycho Brahe's observatory in Denmark, we've seen Ulugh Beg's observatory in Samarkand, and I think most amazing of all, we've seen Pompeii, with plumbing, faucets, running water, and so many signs of modern life that one can hardly imagine how that knowledge was lost. Sometimes I think it would be a lot of fun to write books about how great cities were built, but I seem to have something else to do right now.

From 1980 on through the rest of the COBE project, my professional life was almost entirely consumed with the COBE. For a while I was a Branch Head at Goddard, in charge of the group that Mike Hauser had created. I went off for training courses in all kinds of personnel matters. It was an interesting education, and reinforced the idea that the manager is really working on behalf of the employees. It also emphasized what has become a recurring theme for me: life is a team sport, and it matters who's on the team, and which team(s) one chooses to be on. For the year after the COBE was launched, Werner Neupert acted on my behalf. Later on, Chuck (Charles L.) Bennett became the branch head as well as continuing as Deputy Principal Investigator for the Differential Microwave Radiometers on the COBE; he's also one of my other favorite advisors and great heroes.

I can't imagine telling anything like a complete biographical story about my work on the COBE. I made an attempt in the book The Very First Light, written with John Boslough, a professional science writer. Some people have told me that they were exhausted after reading this book, the story was so full of terrifying moments. Needless to say, the COBE team was exhausted too at various times. For more details, please see the Nobel Lecture accompanying this note, and the numerous technical publications from our team. But the main point I need to make is that the COBE mission was a team effort. Our team gave their complete concentration and support for a very long time, they dealt with having to redesign the mission after the Challenger explosion, they tested the observatory extensively, and they fixed the problems that they found. The analysis team found ways to compensate for "systematic errors" that were built into the designs, and in the end got measurements far beyond the formal requirements for sensitivity and accuracy.

After the COBE work was completed, I was wondering what to do next. For years I had successfully repelled all challenges to my concentration on one overwhelming responsibility. Now, it was done, and I switched my attention to developing new mission concepts. My colleague Harvey Moseley was working on the IRAC (Infrared Array Camera) for the SIRTF mission (Space Infrared Telescope Facility, later named the Spitzer Space Telescope). He said the next telescope needed more angular resolution, because the IRAC was so sensitive that its long exposures would be confusion-limited, i.e. that the fuzzy images of distant galaxies would be so numerous that they would overlap. I started thinking about this question and thought we needed to build a small (2 meter) telescope that would be deployed after launch, so it could be squeezed into an inexpensive launch vehicle. I presented this idea at a colloquium one day and my colleagues laughed and said NASA would never fly such a radical departure from tradition, and anything with a mechanism was dead before starting. I also learned about the Edison mission concept, being developed by Tim Hawarden and Harley Thronson and an extensive international team. This mission was proposed to NASA but was summarily rejected, based on grossly inaccurate thermal calculations made by some reviewer. Curiously enough, the marriage of these two rejected ideas has become the concept for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is now my major passion.

My involvement with the JWST began in the fall of 1995, when I received a phone message from Ed Weiler at NASA Headquarters, asking that I submit a proposal the next day for a study of the Next Generation Space Telescope. I was completely astonished – I had no awareness of this topic, or of the fact that an entire conference had been held at the Space Telescope Science Institute to argue for such an observatory. However, I wasted no time and said yes immediately, and then called around to find out the background information. John Campbell, Project Manager for the Hubble Space Telescope, already had an idea, and there was a committee, chaired by Alan Dressler, preparing a report on "HST and Beyond". That report called for an infrared-optimized telescope to study topics from the early universe to the formation of stars and planets near home. It also called for an interferometer called the Terrestrial Planet Finder, to examine nearby stars for planets like our own Earth. So with this background, my creative juices were flowing, and so were those our colleagues. This initial phase of trying out wild ideas and hunting for ways to go far beyond anything ever done before is one of my biggest thrills. When Alan briefed our NASA Administrator, Dan Goldin, there was a real resonance, and Goldin told the January meeting of the American Astronomical Society that Alan's vision was much too small, and NASA would build a bigger telescope. Goldin got a standing ovation from the meeting. In the next few months, we started up two serious industrial/university partnerships to develop concepts that competed with the NASA concept, we had public briefings of the results, and we were well on our way. At the time, all the studies concluded that an 8 meter observatory could be built for the target price of $500 M in FY96 dollars, not counting civil service salaries, technology development, or the operations phase, but the designs were at the level of "viewgraph engineering" in the days when NASA was under the spell of "faster, better, cheaper," so it should not be surprising that later details have driven up the cost. We initiated technology developments for all the main inventions that were required for the mission, and those have all been successful. We negotiated a partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies, and when we finally chose a prime contractor (TRW, later purchased by Northrop Grumman), the observatory was named after James Webb, the second NASA administrator. Webb is a very appropriate honoree, as he is the person responsible for getting human beings to the Moon with the Apollo project, and he also insisted to President Kennedy that for the good of the Nation, there had to be a scientific research program at NASA and in universities. The National Academy's Decadal Survey ranked the JWST project as top priority in 2000, and thanks to this endorsement is one of the few large projects still continuing forward in NASA's science portfolio. I think the others will be revived as soon as budget can be found for them, since the need has not disappeared. At the moment, the JWST is in excellent technical shape. All the major technological developments have been completed to the required level, called TRL-6, which means they have been tested in the relevant environments. Also, the most difficult items to obtain, the mirrors, the detectors, and the microshutter arrays, are being fabricated with their final flight designs as I write this note. The JWST is now planned for launch in 2013. My role is called "senior project scientist," and I chair the science working group and ensure that the mission will meet the scientific requirements. Now, after 11 years of this project, it is quite mature, which means that huge teams of people are doing the serious work.

The JWST is not the only wild idea that I've been pushing forward. From conversations with Harvey Moseley came the concept for a far infrared interferometer to map the sky with the same image quality that we get with the Hubble Space Telescope; this mission is now called the SPECS, the Submillimeter Probe of the Evolution of Cosmic Structure as David Leisawitz named it. One of these days (but not very soon) it will fly. On another day, I talked with David Bennett at Notre Dame, and we created the idea of a satellite mission to find planets around other stars using the micro-lensing phenomenon. David took it seriously and has submitted several proposals for it, and I think it will fly one day too, because it does things no other planetfinding mission can do. Probably my wildest idea was to send a miniature telescope to the outer solar system to see the cosmic infrared background light directly, without interference from interplanetary dust. This idea was half-baked but it was fun to work on it, and I got a little money to have a young technician build a miniature radiative cooler. That part worked brilliantly but it wasn't enough for a mission. I still enjoy developing new mission concepts, and have recently been trying to persuade people to work on yet another way of hunting for planets around nearby stars.

Now, as I have passed the age of 60, and the Nobel Prize has recognized our COBE work, my life has changed again. I am giving many public lectures, to help the public understand the work we have done and hope to do in the future, and to inspire young people to be as excited about science as I am. I am also broadening my perspective one more time, trying to learn about the entire range of space science, and helping to guide NASA science towards the discoveries of the future. On April 2, 2007, I will take on the job of Chief Scientist of the Science Mission Directorate of NASA, so I will have the opportunity and responsibility to advise NASA on the proper balance of scientific programs from Earth science to cosmology. The panorama of amazing research programs is almost overwhelming, and I am looking forward to seeing it.

Any biographical statement would be empty without thanking the people who helped me through life. My parents, my sister, and my wife have all helped me immeasurably in finding my way through the challenges, and maintaining my faith in humanity despite all the disappointments that happen. My teachers in high school, college, graduate school, and my postdoctoral advisor Pat Thaddeus have led me to water and urged me to drink, and I have sometimes followed their advice. Their enthusiasm was contagious and I do my best to pass it on to my colleagues and to the public. My professional mentors at NASA have shown me how to work successfully and cheerfully with a giant organization full of talent. NASA's review panels have saved our projects over and over, though we often hate to hear their opinions, and I especially thank the people who told us when we were doing things wrong. It is so much better to know about it before we push the launch button! And I suppose it is obvious, but the technical infrastructure developed by our modern society, partly in response to the Soviet Union and its scientific and engineering accomplishments, has made all of this possible beyond any imagining in 1946 when I arrived on Earth.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 2006, Editor Karl Grandin, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 2007

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures/The Nobel Prizes. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2006
Share this:
To cite this page
MLA style: "John C. Mather - Biographical". Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 28 Nov 2014. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2006/mather-bio.html>

Recommended:

Your mission is to arrange an amazing laser party!

 

Read more about the Nobel Prize in Physics.

 

All you want to know about the Nobel Prize in Physics!