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Nobel laureate shares insights with Goddard’s future scientists
August 7, 2013

What do you do after winning the Nobel Prize in physics?  For John Mather, it wasn’t calling it quits and retiring. Instead, Mather is working on the follow-up to the Hubble Space Telescope as well as educating the interns who may one day be following in his footsteps.

The Nobel laureate answered a variety of science questions from summer interns at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on July 11.  Topics covered the sun, dark matter and even extraterrestrial life. The standing-room-only audience heard about Mather’s work studying cosmic microwave background radiation, which earned him the Nobel Prize in 2006. He also focused on his work with the James Webb Space Telescope, for which he currently is the senior project scientist.

However, Mather’s main goal was not just to answer the interns’ questions, but also to inspire them to answer the questions he could not. “These interns will come back and be next year’s geniuses that do something really revolutionary,” Mather said.


Mather said that the timing would allow this year’s interns a chance to make full use of his current work with the Webb telescope. “For a person in college, if they go to graduate school now, they’ll be working with the data when they come out,” Mather said.

He said that’s part of the reason why he makes the effort to not only do general public outreach, but specifically to Goddard interns. “I want the future astronomers that are going to be using [the telescope] to be ready, so they have to already be thinking about what they’re going to be using it for,” Mather said.

Mather helps to support Goddard interns with the John Mather Nobel Scholarships, which he created using some of the Nobel Prize money he won. The scholarship allows interns who are interested in the work being done at NASA and Goddard a chance to show off their work and help them prepare for future employment with a $3,000 grant. Past winners have used the prize to visit graduate schools, help with research and even cover their travel so they can present their own scientific papers.

For Mather, the Nobel Prize is in the past, and he continues to look forward to the work of today and the scientists of tomorrow.

“I think what I’m doing now is the most interesting and important thing I could be doing,” Mather said. “We never know what the future will bring, but these interns are one way to make it happen.”

Sawyer Rosenstein
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

John Mather presents at NASA Goddard
Nobel laureate and James Webb Space Telescope Project Scientists John Mather gave a standing-room-only presentation at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on July 11.
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NASA Goddard/Pat Izzo
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Page Last Updated: August 7th, 2013
Page Editor: Rob Garner