Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded to Two U.S. Cosmologists

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(Get more information about the winners from the Nobel Foundation.)

History of the Universe

COBE also measured small directional variations in the background radiation's temperature, known as anisotropy.

These differences helped explain how and why matter began to clump into stars and galaxies instead of remaining dispersed uniformly throughout the universe.

Previous experiments had baffled scientists by providing little information to explain how galaxies could have formed.

Mather and Smoot's work paved the way for more detailed studies of the early universe.

"[The COBE] measurements also marked the inception of cosmology as a precise science," the Royal Swedish Academy wrote.

For example, NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, a follow-up to COBE, has recently revealed much about the age, shape, and nature of the universe. (Related news: "Universe is Finite, 'Soccer Ball'-Shaped, Study Hints" [October 2003].)

Recognition for the two scientists was no surprise to Phillip Schewe, a spokesperson for the American Institute of Physics.

"They were right at the top of my list, and they have been for more than ten years," he said.

"The microwave background is the largest thing in the universe, it's the farthest out, and it's the furthest back in time," he said. "They were the first to really provide a map of this thing."

Yesterday biologists Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello were awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of RNA interference, a way cells control the expression of specific genes. The find could provide new treatments for diseases such as cancer and AIDS.

Update: October 4, 2006

On Wednesday U.S. biologist Roger D. Kornberg won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for helping to unravel how cells make proteins using genetic information.

The Peace prize will be announced on October 13.

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