Adventures in Ethics and Science

Huzzah for Smoot and Mather!

Chad broke the story, at least in the ScienceBlogs galaxy, but I wanted to add my own “Woo-hoo!” for John C. Mather and George F. Smoot, who have won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics.

I didn’t want this one to go unnoted, as my mom worked to analyze piles of COBE data and, during this period of her life, made the acquaintance of George Smoot, who (from what I can gather) is not only a really smart scientist but also a good and decent human being.

I’m hoping Mom will leave some good Smoot tidbits in the comments.


  1. #1 Super Sally
    October 3, 2006

    When I heard the news on NPR this morning I was driving on the DC Beltway. I didn’t even swerve. It was like I had been waiting for the news: I said out loud “YES!!!”.

    I work with the COBE science analysis team from Oct., 1990 (just after the coolant ran out) until late 1996, focused on analyzing the DIRBE data (near to mid IR).

    From the inception of the COBE effort John Mather was a driving force in proposing the COBE satellite mission and in the design of the FIRAS (Far IR) instrument. John became the PI on that instrument and managed the COBE science project for GSFC.

    George Smoot was a PI on the DMR (microwave) instrument. He was the prime mover in determining how to uncover the anisotropy under the noise in the DMR measurements of the universe.

    These gentlemen were scientists truly engaged in COBE team efforts to tease information out of the COBE measurements. They were good teachers who helped us (the team) understand what processing and imaging was needed, supported our efforst to devise the methods and helped us to understand what the results meant. They included us in many of the presentations and publications in very meaningful ways.

    Personally, I worked for Mather on the group he headed tasked with developing user documentation prepared for release of COBE data beyond the team. John was hands-on, and more than many other team scientists, committed to facilitating the use of COBE data by the wider astronomical community. We worked within the strictures of proprietary data formats toward authentic presentation of the data in more standardized formats then in use in astronomical circles, and so with toolsets readily available. [For those of you not in astronomy, just think about how long IBM and Apple have spent coming to terms with common data formats.] We worked to develop documentation to aid data use. John was an active participant in the group.

    Smoot would come from CA to Greenbelt, MD for COBE science team meetings, and as all of us non-local commuters (I lived in NJ, but worked during the week in MD) he would work late on week nights. Since I was more familiar with the office on a daily basis, I could provide George with invaluable information, like where the printer he had just used was actually located, since it was not located where its name indicated. By 9 or 10 at night as he was finishing his processing and printing, and I was finishing mine, I’d see him padding down the halls of the securely locked office space in his stocking feet, and ask him who mugged him and took his shoes.

    After Dr. F-R’s father had a stroke and was in a coma for some weeks causing me to be out of the COBE environs and at the hospital in NJ most hours of the day, those on the COBE team were incredibly supportive. At one point George called our NJ home to find out how things were going. My Dad, who was there to help out, took the call and dutifully reported it to me: “Some guy named Smoot called from work to find out how things are going”. I hope Dad has the news in heaven today that he spoke to a future Nobel laureate that day.

    Congratulations to John Mather and George Smoot! The honor is well deserved. They were prime movers in bringing to reality the field of observational cosmology. I am grateful I had the opportunity to work with them and learn from them.

  2. #2 Sally's YOUNGER sister Molly
    October 3, 2006

    All of this is quite interesting to me. I did hear “the news” as everyone else did…….and I even made a mental note to “ask” my sister at some point, since astronomy is part of the physics prize this year! You see, I usually hesitate to ask exactly what my sister does at work as her answer gives way too much information for me to ever absorb. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that our lives at work are on completely different wave lengths. To over simplify (in a scientic way!) it’s a right brain/left brain thing for sure! I admire my sister (she is older than me), I look up to her as the strongest person I know (she endures so much on a daily basis and keeps a can do attitude with a smile on her face), and I love her – which in the end is all that really matters for family in this world …..and the beyond!