John Mather is a Senior Astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He is also the Senior Project Scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope. His research centers on infrared astronomy and cosmology. He was the chief scientist for the Cosmic Background Explorer and received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006 for his precise measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation. He has served on advisory and working groups for the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.
Some interesting insights from this episode:
- The James Webb Space Telescope uses infrared technology which allows us to see through the dust clouds to see stars being born.
- “Maybe the formation of life doesn’t require a rare and exotic coincidence but maybe it’s something that always happens when given the chance.”
- Like Neil deGrasse Tyson, John visited the Hayden Planetarium as a kid which ignited his early passion for astronomy.
- He didn’t have his entire career mapped out but rather followed his curiosity and said yes when opportunity would present itself.
- While society holds the theorists in higher regard than the experimentalists like John, that never deterred him.
- Stephen Hawking called his discovery of hot and cold spots in the cosmic background radiation “The most significant scientific discovery of this century if not of all time.”
- COBE took 15 years from inception to launch and the James Webb 27 years but John was able to stay the course on both, keeping himself and his teams motivated along the way.
- His secret to success isn’t being the smartest one in the room and always knowing the answer but rather not being afraid to ask others.