George F. Smoot III, Ph.D.

Nobel Conference 49
Oct. 1 & 2, 2013

George F. Smoot III, Ph.D., professor of physics, University of California, Berkeley; senior scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; professor of physics, Paris Diderot University, France; 2006 Nobel laureate in physics

Cosmologist George Smoot shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics for his work with senior NASA astrophysicist John Mather on the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite (COBE) that led to the measurement “of the black body form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave radiation” and evidence of the fiery birth of our universe. Smoot’s group at Berkeley National Laboratory has mapped the early universe, noting variations in the cosmic background radiation that are the “seeds” of present-day galaxies and clusters of galaxies.

Smoot attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, earning dual bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics in 1966 and a Ph.D. in particle physics in 1970. As he looked into postdoctoral positions he was persuaded by physicist Luis Alvarez to work with him at Cal-Berkeley’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory on the NASA-funded High-Altitude Particle Physics Experiment (HAPPE), a stratospheric weather balloon outfitted to detect antimatter. When HAPPE was reevaluated, it was redirected to design an experiment to find evidence of the Big Bang, and Smoot focused on cosmic microwave background radiation. He is currently a senior scientist at the Berkeley Lab and director of the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics. Since 2010 he has also been a professor of physics at the Paris Diderot University. Smoot was awarded the Albert Einstein Medal in 2003 and the Oerstad Medal in 2009. He is co-author of a general-audience book, Wrinkles in Time (1994), which chronicles the COBE project.