Biographies

Arno Penzias and the cosmic background radiation

Arno Penzias and the cosmic background radiation

Arno Allan Penzias was born in Munich, Germany in 1933. He belonged to a middle-class Jewish family. At the age of 6, his parents sent him to London, where he spent time until the family met with the illusion of traveling to the United States.

At the end of the year 1939 he traveled by ship to North America, arriving in New York in January 1940. Penzias studied at the City College of New York, and graduated in 1954 as a physicist. He studied at Columbia University. Before entering the University, Penzias had been in the navy where he gained experience in the radiation laboratory. This served to focus on the microwave physics laboratory. His thesis was the construction of a mass amplifier for experiments in radio astronomy.

In 1961 he began working at Bell Labs in New Jersey. One of his first projects was to look for the emission lines of OH molecules. With the success of this first work he undertook the construction of a larger antenna. During this time, another radio astronomer named Robert Wilson arrived from Caltech and began work in 1963. Both began radio astronomical observations. Due to the great precision of their systems, new projects began one of which was the measurement of the intensity of the radiation of our galaxy in high latitudes, which resulted in the discovery of the cosmic background radiation.

In the late 1960s the field of radio astronomy in studies of wavelengths of 1 cm. It was unexplored, especially because there were no adequate equipment. However, Bell Laboratories had developed communication equipment that served to open this field and, with these new techniques, a large number of interstellar molecules were discovered. In 1973, Penzias discovered a cloud of deuterium molecules, which allowed to map the distribution of deuterium in the galaxy.

Penzias astronomical work was always related to Bell laboratories. In 1972 he was the director of the radiotechnical research department and in 1976 director of the communications research laboratory. During this time he also collaborated at Princeton University, Harvard College Observatory, New York State University and Trenton State College. In 1978 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics shared with Robert Wilson.

After these works, Penzias dedicated himself to the development of communications technologies, which distanced him from radio astronomical research. In 1981 he was appointed vice president of research.

Apart from some publications on radioisotopes, he wrote a book called "Ideas and Information", published by W. W. Norton in 1989, a book on how computers have modified the life of man.

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