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Arno A. Penzias

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Arno A. Penzias

Arno Allan Penzias
Born (1933-04-26) April 26, 1933 (age 81)
Munich, Germany
Nationality United States
Fields Physics
Institutions Bell Labs
Alma mater City College of New York
Columbia University
Known for Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
Notable awards Henry Draper Medal (1977)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1978)
Spouse Anne Pearl Barras (m. 1954; 3 children)[1]

Arno Allan Penzias (born 26 April 1933) is an American physicist, radio astronomer and Nobel laureate in physics who is co-discoverer of the cosmic microwave background radiation, which helped establish the Big Bang theory of cosmology.

Early life and education

Penzias was born in Munich, Germany, the son of Justine (née Eisenreich) and Karl Penzias, who ran a leather business.[2][3] At age six, he was among the Jewish children evacuated to Britain as part of the Kindertransport rescue operation. Some time later,[4] his parents also fled Nazi Germany for the U.S., and the family settled in the Garment District of New York City in 1940. In 1946, Penzias became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1951 and received a bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1954. From Columbia University, he received his Master's degree in 1958 and his Ph.D. in 1962.[5]

Career

He went on to work at Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, where, with Robert Woodrow Wilson, he worked on ultra-sensitive cryogenic microwave receivers, intended for radio astronomy observations. In 1964, on building their most sensitive antenna/receiver system, the pair encountered radio noise which they could not explain.[6] It was far less energetic than the radiation given off by the Milky Way, and it was isotropic, so they assumed their instrument was subject to interference by terrestrial sources. They tried, and then rejected, the hypothesis that the radio noise emanated from New York City. An examination of the microwave horn antenna showed it was full of pigeon droppings (which Penzias described as "white dielectric material"). After the pair removed the dung buildup, and the pigeons were shot (each physicist says the other ordered the deed), the noise remained. Having rejected all sources of interference, Penzias contacted Robert Dicke, who suggested it might be the background radiation predicted by some cosmological theories. The pair agreed with Dicke to publish side-by-side letters in the Astrophysical Journal, with Penzias and Wilson describing their observations and Dicke suggesting the interpretation as the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), the radio remnant of the Big Bang.[7][8] This allowed astronomers to confirm the Big Bang, and to correct many of their previous assumptions about it.


He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1975.[9] Penzias and Wilson received the 1978 Nobel Prize, sharing it with Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa (Kapitsa's work was unrelated to Penzias and Wilson's). In 1977, the two had received the Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences.[10] Penzias is also the recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. In 1998, he was awarded the IRI Medal from the Industrial Research Institute.

Penzias has been a resident of Highland Park, New Jersey.[11] He has a son, David, and two daughters, Mindy Penzias Dirks, PhD, and Rabbi Shifra (Laurie) Weiss-Penzias.[12][13] He currently serves as a venture partner at New Enterprise Associates.[14]

Notes

See also

References


  • Cite Video | BBC/WGBH BOSTON | NOVA #519 | A Whisper From Space | Copyright 1978 | Available With Permission | Consolidated Aircraft - Ronkonkoma, New York

External links

  • Autobiographical sketch
  • The first part of an article authored by Arno Penzias that was published in Science Reporter magazine
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