Berkeley Physics alum John Mather has won many prestigious awards—including the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics with George Smoot for taking precision cosmic background radiation measurements that supported the Big Bang Theory of the expanding universe. But receiving this year’s UC Berkeley Alumnus of the Year award in front of an audience of longtime friends and former Berkeley colleagues was still special. “It was a joy to see my thesis advisor Paul Richards, who set me on the trajectory that got me to Stockholm. And John Hauptman and others, who I shared a house with on Walnut Street that resembled the Big Bang Theory TV show,” says Mather. “I also got to share the happiness with my fiancée Cheryl Hoffman.”
Mather received the award in part to honor his work as a senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which takes spectacular images of the universe as it appeared billions of years ago. He says the biggest surprise from JWST so far is that the first galaxies appear to be bigger, brighter, hotter, more massive, and faster than expected, and astronomers don’t know yet why their predictions were wrong. They look forward to solving this and other mysteries using JWST over the next decade.
“I’m immensely grateful to the people who collectively were able to support and build the most powerful space observatory we could ever hope for,” says Mather. “We humans, just 6 feet tall, walking around a small planet, are discovering secrets of the universe. And we can, if we choose, manage the future health of our planet for a long and glorious civilization.”
The UC Berkeley Alumnus of the Year award is supported by the UC Berkeley Foundation and the CAL Alumni Association.