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Physics Nobel Laureates Inspire STEM Students

Dr. John C. Mather
Dr. John C. Mather, Nobel laureate, presented on the James Webb Space Telescope project. The event, sponsored by the Office of the Vice President and Provost, Germantown Campus and the Collegewide STEM Unit, included a Q+A with students and community members.

On October 23, Dr. John C. Mather kicked off the Nobel Laureate Speaker Series at the Germantown Campus with his presentation titled Opening the Infrared Treasure Chest with the James Webb Space Telescope.  Dr. Mather is a co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics for providing crucial evidence for the big bang theory and significantly advancing understanding of the universe’s origin and evolution. Physicist Steven Hawking said that this work was “the greatest scientific discovery of the century, if not of all time.”

As a senior astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Mather most recently led the science team that built the James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope looks farther out into space, and farther back in time, than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. Since its launch on Christmas Day 2021, the Webb Telescope has already produced images of never-before-seen phenomena and is helping scientists answer, and ask, more questions than ever. 

Globe Hall was filled with 230 students, employees, and members of the community who were captivated by the discoveries Mather explained in engaging and simple terms.

“Using infrared light, [the telescope] can see through dust clouds and debris from prior generations of stars. It is a tool to see how stars get born, to see objects not warm enough to be seen with other telescopes, and it can see black holes growing.”

James Webb Space Telescope [photo credit] Getty Images
James Webb Space Telescope [photo credit] Getty Images

Mather encouraged students—future engineers, astronomers, and scientists—to think about the next generation of space telescope, which he says will be even more powerful and take another few decades to develop. Some of them, he said, might be interested in working on those kinds of  “valuable projects.”

MC Welcomes Another Nobel Laureate 

Dr. William D. Phillips, Nobel laureate, physicist
Dr. William D. Phillips, Nobel laureate, physicist

On November 6, Dr. William D. Phillips continued the Nobel Laureate Speaker Series at the Germantown Campus with his presentation titled How We Measure Up: The Revolutionary Changes to the Way Science Measures Almost Everything


To watch recorded presentations of Nobel Laureate Speaker Series, visit the MCTV YouTube channel:

Nobel Laureate Speaker Series event information:

Dr. Phillips is a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. These systems have revolutionized atomic physics and paved the way for new applications in precision measurements and emerging quantum technologies. As a founding member of the Joint Quantum Institute, a cooperative research organization of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland that is devoted to the study of quantum coherent phenomena, Dr. Phillips has continued to satisfy his curiosity by working with the next generation of scientists to discover the next big thing. 

The speaker engaged more than 150 attendees—students, staff, and members of the community—with his passion as he explained the history of measurement units from ancient to modern times. 

The final speaker in this series, Dr. David J. Wineland, will present on quantum phenomena in the spring semester (date to be determined).