George F. Smoot
Born: 20 February 1945, Yukon, FL, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
Prize motivation: "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation"
Field: astrophysics, instrumentation
Prize share: 1/2
George Smoot was born in Yukon, Florida, into a family where many practiced law. His father, however, broke with tradition and became an engineer, while his mother taught school. His parents strongly encouraged his interest in mathematics and physics when he was growing up, and Sputnik drew both his and the world's attention to space. Money was scarce in the family, and during his time at school, Smoot worked to earn extra money so he could afford studies at MIT. After his doctorate, he moved to Berkeley, where he made his Nobel Prize-awarded discoveries.
Various types of particles and radiation travel through outer space, including cosmic background radiation, which has been carefully studied through measurements from the COBE satellite. George Smoot led a project that in 1992 was able to point out small variations in radiation in different directions. This provides a clue to how stars and other heavenly bodies have come into existence. The variations can be explained by a kind of quantum mechanical fluctuations that have caused matter in certain places to form clumps that then have grown because of gravitation.