Arno Allan Penzias

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Arno Allan Penzias
Arno Penzias.jpg
Born (1933-04-26) April 26, 1933 (age 86)
Nationality United States
Alma mater City College of New York
Columbia University
Known for Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
Spouse(s)Sherry Penzias
Awards Henry Draper Medal (1977)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1978)
Harold Pender Award (1991)
IRI Medal (1998)
Scientific career
Fields Physics
Institutions Bell Labs

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

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Physicist scientist who does research in physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies.

Robert Woodrow Wilson American astronomer

Robert Woodrow Wilson is an American astronomer who, along with Arno Allan Penzias, discovered cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) in 1964. The pair won the 1978 Nobel laureate in physics for their discovery.


Early life and education

Penzias was born in Munich, Germany, the son of Justine (née Eisenreich) and Karl Penzias, who ran a leather business. [1] [2] His grandparents had come to Munich from Poland and were among the leaders of the Reichenbach Strasse Shul. At age six, he and his brother Gunther were among the Jewish children evacuated to Britain as part of the Kindertransport rescue operation. Some time later, [3] 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 [4] and after enrolling to study chemistry at the City College of New York, he changed majors and graduated 1954 with a degree in physics, ranked near the top of his class.

Munich Capital and most populous city of Bavaria, Germany

Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, as well as the 12th-largest city in the European Union. The city's metropolitan region is home to 6 million people. Straddling the banks of the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, it is the seat of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Bavaria, while being the most densely populated municipality in Germany. Munich is the second-largest city in the Bavarian dialect area, after the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Following graduation, Penzias served for two years as a radar officer in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. This led to a research assistantship in the Columbia University Radiation Laboratory, which was then heavily involved in microwave physics. Penzias worked under Charles Townes, who later invented the maser.

Radar object detection system based on radio waves

Radar is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. A radar system consists of a transmitter producing electromagnetic waves in the radio or microwaves domain, a transmitting antenna, a receiving antenna and a receiver and processor to determine properties of the object(s). Radio waves from the transmitter reflect off the object and return to the receiver, giving information about the object's location and speed.

Columbia University Private Ivy League research university in New York City

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. Established in 1754, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. It has been ranked by numerous major education publications as among the top ten universities in the world.

Maser Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation

A maser is a device that produces coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification by stimulated emission. The first maser was built by Charles H. Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger at Columbia University in 1953. Townes, Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov were awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical work leading to the maser. Masers are used as the timekeeping device in atomic clocks, and as extremely low-noise microwave amplifiers in radio telescopes and deep space spacecraft communication ground stations.

Next, Penzias enrolled as a graduate student at Columbia in 1956. He earned a Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University in 1962. [5]

Doctor of Philosophy Postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities in many countries

A Doctor of Philosophy is the highest university degree that is conferred after a course of study by universities in most English-speaking countries. PhDs are awarded for programs across the whole breadth of academic fields. As an earned research degree, those studying for a PhD are usually required to produce original research that expands the boundaries of knowledge, normally in the form of a thesis or dissertation, and defend their work against experts in the field. The completion of a PhD is often a requirement for employment as a university professor, researcher, or scientist in many fields. Individuals who have earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree may, in many jurisdictions, use the title Doctor or, in non-English-speaking countries, variants such as "Dr. phil." with their name, although the proper etiquette associated with this usage may also be subject to the professional ethics of their own scholarly field, culture, or society. Those who teach at universities or work in academic, educational, or research fields are usually addressed by this title "professionally and socially in a salutation or conversation." Alternatively, holders may use post-nominal letters such as "Ph.D.", "PhD", or "DPhil". It is, however, considered incorrect to use both the title and post-nominals at the same time.


Penzias 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 bat and pigeon droppings (which Penzias described as "white dielectric material"). After the pair removed the dung buildup 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 [7] and Dicke suggesting the interpretation as the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), the radio remnant of the Big Bang. [8] [9] This allowed astronomers to confirm the Big Bang, and to correct many of their previous assumptions about it.

Bell Labs research and scientific development company

Nokia Bell Labs is an industrial research and scientific development company owned by Finnish company Nokia. Its headquarters are located in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Other laboratories are located around the world. Bell Labs has its origins in the complex past of the Bell System.

Microwave form of electromagnetic radiation

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.

Holmdel Horn Antenna

The Holmdel Horn Antenna is a large microwave horn antenna that was used as a satellite communication antenna and radio telescope during the 1960s at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel Township, New Jersey, United States. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988 because of its association with the research work of two radio astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. In 1965 while using this antenna, Penzias and Wilson discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) that permeates the universe. This was one of the most important discoveries in physical cosmology since Edwin Hubble demonstrated in the 1920s that the universe was expanding. It provided the evidence that confirmed George Gamow's and Georges Lemaître's "Big Bang" theory of the creation of the universe. This helped change the science of cosmology, the study of the history of the universe, from a field for unlimited theoretical speculation into a discipline of direct observation. In 1978 Penzias and Wilson received the Nobel Prize for Physics for their discovery.

Penzias and Wilson stand at the 15 meter Holmdel Horn Antenna that brought their most notable discovery. Horn Antenna-in Holmdel, New Jersey.jpeg
Penzias and Wilson stand at the 15 meter Holmdel Horn Antenna that brought their most notable discovery.

He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences in 1975. [10] [11] 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. [12] 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.

American Academy of Arts and Sciences United States honorary society and center for independent policy research

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the oldest learned societies in the United States. Founded in 1780, the Academy is dedicated to honoring excellence and leadership, working across disciplines and divides, and advancing the common good.

Henry Draper Medal award

The Henry Draper Medal is awarded every 4 years by the United States National Academy of Sciences "for investigations in astronomical physics". Named after Henry Draper, the medal is awarded with a gift of USD $15,000. The medal was established under the Draper Fund by his widow, Anna Draper, in honor of her husband, and was first awarded in 1886 to Samuel Pierpont Langley "for numerous investigations of a high order of merit in solar physics, and especially in the domain of radiant energy". It has since been awarded 45 times.

IRI Medal

The IRI Medal, established by the Industrial Research Institute (IRI) in 1946, recognizes and honors leaders of technology for their outstanding accomplishments in technological innovation which contribute broadly to the development of industry and to the benefit of society. One side of the medal depicts a scientist peering into a microscope as a symbol of the never-ending quest for innovation; a pegasus running in the background as a symbol of imagination; and clouds issuing from a retort revealing the practical results of humanity's ability to harness natural forces to meet its needs. The reverse side of the medal is an adaptation of the official seal of the Institute. This award is traditionally presented each spring at the IRI Annual Meeting alongside the IRI Achievement Award.

On April 26, 2019 the Nürnberger Astronomische Gesellschaft e.V. (NAG) inaugurated the 3-m radio telescope at the Regiomontanus-Sternwarte, the public observatory of Nuremberg, and dedicated this instrument to Arno Penzias. Acknowledging the outstanding scientific merits and the personal history of Arno Penzias as well as the importance of the accessibility to science for all citizens the Minister-President of Bavaria, Dr. Markus Söder participated in this celebration.

Penzias has been a resident of Highland Park, New Jersey. [13] He has a son, David, and two daughters, Mindy Penzias Dirks, PhD, and Rabbi Shifra (Laurie) Weiss-Penzias. [14] [15] He currently serves as a venture partner at New Enterprise Associates. [16]


See also

Related Research Articles

Cosmic microwave background Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

The cosmic microwave background, in Big Bang cosmology, is electromagnetic radiation as a remnant from an early stage of the universe, also known as "relic radiation". The CMB is faint cosmic background radiation filling all space. It is an important source of data on the early universe because it is the oldest electromagnetic radiation in the universe, dating to the epoch of recombination. With a traditional optical telescope, the space between stars and galaxies is completely dark. However, a sufficiently sensitive radio telescope shows a faint background noise, or glow, almost isotropic, that is not associated with any star, galaxy, or other object. This glow is strongest in the microwave region of the radio spectrum. The accidental discovery of the CMB in 1964 by American radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson was the culmination of work initiated in the 1940s, and earned the discoverers the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Cosmic noise and galactic radio noise is random noise that originates outside the Earth's atmosphere. It can be detected and heard in radio receivers. Cosmic noise characteristics are similar to those of thermal noise. Cosmic noise is experienced at frequencies above about 15 MHz when highly directional antennas are pointed toward the sun or to certain other regions of the sky such as the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Celestial objects like quasars, super dense objects that lie far from Earth, emit electromagnetic waves in its full spectrum including radio waves. We can also hear the fall of a meteorite in a radio receiver; the falling object burns from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, ionizing surrounding gases and producing radio waves. Cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) from outer space, discovered by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, who later won the Nobel Prize for this discovery, is also a form of cosmic noise. CMBR is thought to be a relic of the Big Bang, and pervades the space almost homogeneously over the entire celestial sphere. The bandwidth of the CMBR is wide, though the peak is in the microwave range.

Cosmic Background Explorer space observatory

The Cosmic Background Explorer, also referred to as Explorer 66, was a satellite dedicated to cosmology, which operated from 1989 to 1993. Its goals were to investigate the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) of the universe and provide measurements that would help shape our understanding of the cosmos.

Microwave radiometer

A microwave radiometer (MWR) is a radiometer that measures energy emitted at millimetre-to-centimetre wavelengths known as microwaves. Microwave radiometers are very sensitive receivers designed to measure thermal electromagnetic radiation emitted by atmospheric gases. They are usually equipped with multiple receiving channels in order to derive the characteristic emission spectrum of the atmosphere or extraterrestrial objects. Microwave radiometers are utilized in a variety of environmental and engineering applications, including weather forecasting, climate monitoring, radio astronomy and radio propagation studies.

Pyotr Kapitsa Soviet physicist

Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa or Peter Kapitza (Russian: Пётр Леони́дович Капи́ца, Romanian: Petre Capiţa was a leading Soviet physicist and Nobel laureate, best known for his work in low-temperature physics.

Rainer Weiss American physicist

Rainer "Rai" Weiss is an American physicist, known for his contributions in gravitational physics and astrophysics. He is a professor of physics emeritus at MIT and an adjunct professor at LSU. He is best known for inventing the laser interferometric technique which is the basic operation of LIGO. He was Chair of the COBE Science Working Group.

Discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation

The discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation constitutes a major development in modern physical cosmology. The cosmic background radiation (CMB) was measured by Andrew McKellar in 1941 at an effective temperature of 2.3 K using CN stellar absorption lines observed by W. S. Adams. Theoretical work around 1950 showed that the need for a CMB for consistency with the simplest relativistic universe models. In 1964, US physicist Arno Penzias and radio-astronomer Robert Woodrow Wilson rediscovered the CMB, estimating its temperature as 3.5 K, as they experimented with the Holmdel Horn Antenna. The new measurements were accepted as important evidence for a hot early Universe and as evidence against the rival steady state theory. In 1978, Penzias and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their joint measurement.

Observational cosmology

Observational cosmology is the study of the structure, the evolution and the origin of the universe through observation, using instruments such as telescopes and cosmic ray detectors.

Robert H. Dicke American astronomer

Robert Henry Dicke was an American physicist who made important contributions to the fields of astrophysics, atomic physics, cosmology and gravity.

Age of the universe Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

In physical cosmology, the age of the universe is the time elapsed since the Big Bang. The current measurement of the age of the universe is 13.799±0.021 billion (109) years within the Lambda-CDM concordance model. The uncertainty has been narrowed down to 21 million years, based on a number of studies which all gave extremely similar figures for the age. These include studies of the microwave background radiation, and measurements by the Planck spacecraft, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and other probes. Measurements of the cosmic background radiation give the cooling time of the universe since the Big Bang, and measurements of the expansion rate of the universe can be used to calculate its approximate age by extrapolating backwards in time.

Ralph Asher Alpher American cosmologist

Ralph Asher Alpher was an American cosmologist, who carried out pioneering work in the early 1950s on the Big Bang model, including Big Bang nucleosynthesis and predictions of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Robert Herman was a United States scientist, best known for his work with Ralph Alpher in 1948-50, on estimating the temperature of cosmic microwave background radiation from the Big Bang explosion.

Crawford Hill

Crawford Hill is located in Holmdel Township, New Jersey, United States. It is Monmouth County's highest point, standing at least 380 feet above sea level. The hill is best known as the site of an annex to the Bell Labs Holmdel Complex.

George Smoot American astrophysicist and cosmologist

George Fitzgerald Smoot III is an American astrophysicist, cosmologist, Nobel laureate, and one of two contestants to win the US$1 million prize on Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006 for his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer with John C. Mather that led to the "discovery of the black body form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation".

RELIKT-1 - a Soviet cosmic microwave background anisotropy experiment on board the Prognoz 9 satellite gave upper limits on the large-scale anisotropy. A reanalysis of the data in the later years claimed a confident blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation. Results have been reported in January 1992 at the All-Moscow Astronomy Seminar held at Sternberg Astronomical Institute, and published, for example, in issue 4/1992 of the "Science in USSR" journal and in Soviet Astronomy Letters in May–June 1992. Nevertheless, the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2006 was awarded to a team of American scientists, who announced the fact on April 23, 1992 based on data taken by the COBE spacecraft.

Andrei Georgievich Doroshkevich is a Russian theoretical astrophysicist and cosmologist, head of the laboratory on the physics of the early universe at the Lebedev Physical Institute.

Cosmic background radiation electromagnetic radiation from the sky with no discernible source

Cosmic background radiation is electromagnetic radiation from the Big Bang. The origin of this radiation depends on the region of the spectrum that is observed. One component is the cosmic microwave background. This component is redshifted photons that have freely streamed from an epoch when the Universe became transparent for the first time to radiation. Its discovery and detailed observations of its properties are considered one of the major confirmations of the Big Bang. The discovery of the cosmic background radiation suggests that the early universe was dominated by a radiation field, a field of extremely high temperature and pressure.


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  13. Horner, Shirley (3 October 1993). "About Books". The New York Times . Retrieved 23 October 2009.
  14. B Schlessinger, Bernard S. and June H., Who's Who of Nobel Prize Winners, 1901-1990, (Oryx Press, 1991) p. 203
  15. Rabbi Jonathan Klein's Blog, Sept. 22, 2006
  16. Team / Arno Penzias