Robert Woodrow Wilson

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For the accelerator physicist and founding director of Fermilab, see Robert R. Wilson.
For the American president, see Woodrow Wilson.
Robert Woodrow Wilson
Robert Wilson (28215880301) (cropped).jpg
Wilson in 2016
Born (1936-01-10) January 10, 1936 (age 83)
Residence New Jersey
Nationality United States
Alma mater Rice University
California Institute of Technology
Known for Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
Awards Henry Draper Medal (1977)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1978)
Scientific career
Fields Physics

Robert Woodrow Wilson (born January 10, 1936) 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.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 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 largest city by population 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 18 megadiverse countries.

Astronomer scientist who studies celestial bodies

An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe astronomical objects such as stars, planets, moons, comets, and galaxies – in either observational or theoretical astronomy. Examples of topics or fields astronomers study include planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin or evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. Related but distinct subjects like physical cosmology, which studies the Universe as a whole.

Arno Allan Penzias American physicist

Arno Allan Penzias 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.


While working on a new type of antenna at Bell Labs in Holmdel Township, New Jersey, they found a source of noise in the atmosphere that they could not explain. [1] After removing all potential sources of noise, including pigeon droppings on the antenna, the noise was finally identified as CMB, which served as important corroboration of the Big Bang theory.

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.

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.

Holmdel Township, New Jersey Township in New Jersey, United States

Holmdel Township, often referred to as simply Holmdel, is a township in Monmouth County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 16,773, reflecting an increase of 992 (+6.3%) from the 15,781 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 4,249 (+36.8%) from the 11,532 counted in the 1990 Census.

Life and work

Robert Woodrow Wilson was born on January 10, 1936, in Houston, Texas. He graduated from Lamar High School in River Oaks, in Houston, [2] and studied as an undergraduate at Rice University, also in Houston, where he was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa society. He then earned a PhD in physics at California Institute of Technology.

Lamar High School (Houston)

Mirabeau B. Lamar High School is a comprehensive public secondary school located in Houston, Texas, United States.

Houston City in Texas, United States

Houston is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Texas and the fourth most populous city in the United States, with a census-estimated population of 2.312 million in 2017. It is the most populous city in the Southern United States and on the Gulf Coast of the United States. Located in Southeast Texas near Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, it is the seat of Harris County and the principal city of the Greater Houston metropolitan area, which is the fifth most populous metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the United States and the second most populous in Texas after the Dallas-Fort Worth MSA. With a total area of 627 square miles (1,620 km2), Houston is the eighth most expansive city in the United States. Though primarily in Harris county, small portions of the city extend into Fort Bend & Montgomery counties.

Rice University university in Houston, Texas, USA

William Marsh Rice University, commonly known as Rice University, is a private research university located on a 300-acre campus in Houston, Texas, United States. The university is situated near the Houston Museum District and is adjacent to the Texas Medical Center.

Wilson and Penzias also won the Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1977. [3]

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. The medal was most recently awarded in 2013 to William J. Borucki "For his founding concept, unflagging advocacy, and visionary leadership during the development of NASA's Kepler mission, which has uncovered myriad planets and solar systems with unforeseen and surprising properties.".

Wilson remained at Bell Laboratories until 1994, when he was named a senior scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [4]

Wilson has been a resident of Holmdel Township, New Jersey. [5]

Wilson married Elizabeth Rhoads Sawin [6] in 1958. [7]


  1. Penzias, A.A.; Wilson, R.W. (1965). "A Measurement of Excess Antenna Temperature at 4080 Mc/s". Astrophysical Journal . 142: 419–421. Bibcode:1965ApJ...142..419P. doi:10.1086/148307.
  2. "Distinguished HISD Alumni Archived 2012-02-25 at WebCite ," Houston Independent School District
  3. "Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences . Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-04-02.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. Nobel Lectures, Physics 1971-1980, Editor Stig Lundqvist, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1992. Autobiography. Accessed March 15, 2011. "We still live in the house in Holmdel which we bought when I first came to Bell Laboratories."
  6. "Robert Woodrow Wilson - Biographical". Retrieved 2016-06-07.
  7. "Robert Woodrow Wilson". Retrieved 2016-06-07.

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