Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias Passes Away at 90

25th Jan 2024
Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias Passes Away at 90

Physicist Arno Allan Penzias, who, along with his colleague Robert Woodrow Wilson, discovered the cosmic microwave background (CMB), thus confirming the Big Bang theory, passed away at the age of 90 on the 22nd of January 2024. 

Penzias was born on the 26th of April, 1933, in Munich, Germany. At six, Penzias’ family was forced to flee Nazi Germany, and after spending some time living in England, they settled in New York later in 1940. Penzias earned a degree in physics in 1954 from the City College of New York, and after graduation, he joined the US Army Signal Corps as a radar officer, serving until 1956. Later, in 1962, he earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University under the guidance of Charles Townes. Following that, Penzias began developing microwave receivers for radio astronomy at Bell Labs, New Jersey. 

In 1964, Penzias and Wilson had been working on developing a new kind of microwave antenna at Bell Labs. The ultra-sensitive antenna was designed like a large horn intended to research the Milky Way’s radio emissions. However, they eventually stumbled upon a signal originating from outside the Milky Way, which later became proof of the well-known Big Bang theory.

The Legacy of Arno. A Penzias

At first, Penzias believed the sound he heard was caused by debris on the antenna from perching pigeons. But even after cleaning the inside of the antenna, the hissing noise continued to persist. Penzias sought guidance from other physicists, and together, they determined that the noise was, in fact, cosmic microwave background radiation. This very radiation was the remaining evidence of the Universe’s birth, popularly known as the Big Bang. The discovery of this radiation by Penzias and Wilson offered conclusive evidence in support of the Big Bang theory and debunked competing theories regarding the Universe’s origin. 

In 1978, as a result of their groundbreaking discovery, Penzias, along with Wilson, received the Nobel Prize in Physics. Penzias continued to work at Bell Labs and went on to become the vice president of research there. Penzias earned several other accolades throughout his career, including the Henry Draper Medal in 1977, the Harold Pender Award in 1991, and the IRI Medel in 1998. 

In 2023, a new award was created by the Radio Club of America in his honor, called the Arno. A. Penzias Award, which aims to recognize individuals making significant contributions to fundamental research in the field of radio sciences.

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