Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

College News


Nobel Prize Winning Astrophysicist John Mather to Speak at AU


John Mather, Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, will speak at American University at 1:10 p.m. on Monday, November 30. The talk will take place in the Founders Room of the School of International Service, and it is free and open to the public. 

Mather serves as senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the great Hubble Space Telescope. The title of his talk is “The History of the Universe from the beginning to the end: where did we come from, where can we go?” He will outline the history of the universe, from its early moments in the Big Bang, to the possible end.  


The History of the Universe: In Mather’s Words

“Our history is full of beneficial catastrophes, and we wouldn't be here without them: stars explode, the Moon is formed in a giant collision with the Earth, the Earth is bombarded by asteroids and comets for hundreds of millions of years, and multiple extinction events through hot, cold, poison, and asteroid impacts cause rapid evolution of life,” Mather said. 

“But here we are, our ancestors survived and thrived through it all. Now, we can tell the story, we can look for more details, and we can begin to adventure through the solar system and eventually beyond, in partnership with a new entity, artificial intelligence coupled with robotics. Scientific discovery has been propelled by competition (including war) for thousands of years, so it’s immensely important to public policy. I will illustrate with examples from NASA, including our measurements of the Big Bang, discoveries with the Hubble, and future telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope (planned for 2018 launch) and beyond. Within a few decades, we may know that life is common in the universe, or perhaps not.”


About John C. Mather

John C. Mather

Mather is a senior astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he specializes in infrared astronomy and cosmology. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics at Swarthmore College and his PhD in physics at the University of California at Berkeley.   

As an NRC postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, he led the proposal efforts for the Cosmic Background Explorer (1974-1976), and came to GSFC to be the study scientist (1976-1988), project scientist (1988-1998), and the principal investigator for the Far IR Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS) on COBE. He and his team showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation has a blackbody spectrum within 50 parts per million, confirming the Big Bang theory to extraordinary accuracy.  

The COBE team also discovered the cosmic anisotropy (hot and cold spots in the background radiation), now believed to be the primordial seeds that led to the structure of the universe today. It was these findings that led to Mather receiving the Nobel Prize in 2006.

Mather now serves as Senior Project Scientist (95-present) for the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the great Hubble Space Telescope.