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Robert Woodrow Wilson

Robert Woodrow WilsonBorn: 10-Jan-1936
Birthplace: Houston, TX

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Astronomer, Physicist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Detected primordial radiation

American astrophysicist Robert Woodrow Wilson developed an interest in electronics and radio transmissions as a youngster. In his high school years he earned spending money by repairing radio and television sets, built his own hi-fi system, and helped ham operators build and fix their machinery, though he says he lost interest in such devices as soon as they were working again. He studied under John G. Bolton and Maarten Schmidt at CalTech, worked at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, and was hired at the Bell Telephone Laboratories at Holmdel, New Jersey in 1963, where he was the second radio astronomer alongside Arno Penzias. When budget cuts were announced, and Bell decided it could only afford one radio astronomer, Wilson and Penzias offered to cut their paid work to half-time, and both continued their work there, using an advanced radio telescope to monitor radio waves from the Milky Way galaxy.

In 1964, they discovered a consistent background buzz received from all directions, which they first suspected was a mechanical problem or a reflection of terrestrial broadcasting. Instead, further research revealed that they had discovered cosmic background radiation, a quiet but consistent remnant of the "big bang" that began the universe some 15 billion years ago. They were promptly returned to full-time status, and both scientists were honored with the Nobel Prize in 1978, sharing the accolade with Pyotr Kapitsa, who conducted unrelated research into low-temperature physics. Wilson's later work has included millimeter wave astronomy, measuring the sun's radiation in the earth's atmosphere, quantifying interstellar isotopes, and investigating the properties of molecules detected in open space.

Father: Ralph W. Wilson (oil worker)
Mother: Fannie Willis Wilson
Wife: Elizabeth Rhoads Sawin ("Betsy", m. 1958, three children)
Son: Philip (b. circa 1962)
Daughter: Suzanne (b. 1963)
Son: Randal (b. 1967)

    High School: Lamar High School, Houston, TX (1953)
    University: BA Physics, Rice University (1957)
    University: PhD Astrophysics, California Institute of Technology (1962)
    Scholar: Owens Valley Radio Observatory, California Institute of Technology (1958-63)
    Fellow: Research, California Institute of Technology (1962-63)
    Teacher: State University of New York (1978-)

    Henry Draper Medal 1977 (with Arno Penzias)
    RAS Herschel Medal 1977
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1978 (with Arno Penzias and Pyotr Kapitsa)
    Bell Laboratories Director, Radio Physics Research (1976-)
    Bell Laboratories Research staff (1963-76)
    Exxon Summer work (1957)
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Astronomical Society
    American Physical Society
    International Astronomical Union
    IEEE
    International Union of Radio Sciences
    National Academy of Sciences 1979
    Phi Beta Kappa Society
    Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society


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