John C. Mather Named Honorary Member of The Optical Society

15 November 2016


John C. Mather Named Honorary Member of The Optical Society

Mather recognized cosmic background radiation measurement; discovery regarded as the starting point of cosmology as a precision science

WASHINGTON—The Optical Society (OSA) announced that John C. Mather was named an Honorary Member. Mather was chosen for “his contribution to NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) project which is regarded as the starting point of cosmology as a precision science.” The Optical Society’s Honorary Membership is the most distinguished membership status a society member may achieve and this status is confirmed by the OSA Board of Directors. 

“Our work on the COBE project began the era of precision measurements of the cosmos and confirmed the expanding universe picture to extraordinary accuracy,” said John C. Mather, Senior Astrophysicist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “New optical technologies continue to make discoveries in space possible. This year’s discovery of gravitational waves was enabled by optical interferometers and I expect more discoveries once the James Webb Space Telescope is launched in October 2018. I am delighted today for this honorary membership and thank the OSA Board of Directors. ”
Alan Willner, 2016 President of The Optical Society and Steven & Kathryn Sample Chair in Engineering, University of Southern California, California, USA, remarked “Due to the sophisticated optical measurement techniques, precision measurement of the cosmos has been made possible – a truly amazing achievement. It is a sincere pleasure for me to honor John C. Mather with this membership.”

John C. Mather received his B. A. degree from Swathmore College, Pennsylvania in 1968. He continued on with his studies and attended University of California at Berkeley, California where he received the Ph.D. in 1974. As an NRC postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (New York City), he led the proposal efforts for the Cosmic Background Explorer (1974-76). He joined the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in 1976- 1988 as a Study Scientist, as a Project Scientist (1988-98) and later as the Principal Investigator for the Far IR Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS) on COBE. As Senior Project Scientist (1995-present) for the James Webb Space Telescope, he leads the science team, and represents scientific interests within the project management.

NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) was a satellite dedicated to cosmology. Its goals were to investigate the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) of the universe and provide measurements that would help shape our understanding of the cosmos. COBE carried three optical and infrared instruments, a Far Infrared Absolute Spectrophotometer, a Differential Microwave Radiometer with three channels, and a Diffuse Infrared Background Experiment. COBE observed the universe on the largest scales possible, by mapping the cosmic microwave and infrared background radiation fields and determining their spectra. It produced conclusive evidence that the hot Big Bang theory of the early universe is correct, showed that the early universe was very uniform but not perfectly so, and that the total luminosity of post-Big Bang objects is twice as great as previously believed.

Among his many awards and recognitions, John C. Mather was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1997, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998, to Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1996, and to Fellow of The Optical Society in 2009. He received an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Swarthmore College in 1994 and an Honorary D. Sci. from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2008. He also received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics from the Franklin Institute in 1999, the Cosmology prize from the Pat and Peter Gruber Foundation in 2006, the Nobel Prize in Physics, with George Smoot, in 2006, the Robinson Prize in Cosmology from Newcastle University in 2008, and the Gold Medal from the Prime Minister of India in 2009.

The Optical Society’s Honorary Membership is the most distinguished membership status a society member may achieve and this status is unanimously confirmed by the OSA Board of Directors. Mather joins a roster of 48 distinguished Honorary Members, 15 of whom are living. For a complete listing of OSA's honorary members, visit OSA's website.

About The Optical Society
Founded in 1916, The Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional organization for scientists, engineers, students and business leaders who fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate achievements in the science of light. Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership initiatives, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of optics and photonics experts. For more information, visit

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