Arno Allan Penzias (born April 26, 1933) is an American physicist and winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics.
He was born in Munich, Germany. Aged six he fled to Britain as part of the Kindertransport. Six months later his parents also left Germany, and the family moved to garment district of New York City in 1940. In 1946, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He received a bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1954. From Columbia University, he received his master's degree in 1958 and his Ph.D. in 1962.
He went on to work at Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey where, with Robert Woodrow Wilson, he worked on ultra-sensitive cryogenic microwave antennas intended for radio astronomy observations. In 1964, on building their most sensitive antenna, the pair encountered radio noise which they could not explain. It was more energetic that the radiation given off by the Milky Way should produce, so the pair assumed their instrument was subject to interference by terrestrial sources. They tried, and then rejected, the hypothesis that the radio noise eminated from New York City. An examination of the microwave horn antenna showed it was full of pigeon droppings (which Penzias described as "white dielectric material"). After the pair removed the guano buildup, and the pigeons shot (each physicist says the other ordered the deed) the noise remained. Having rejected all sources of interference, the pair published a paper announcing their findings. This was later identified as the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), the radio remnant of the Big Bang. This allowed astronomers to confirm the Big Bang, and to correct many of their previous assumptions about it.
Penzias and Wilson received the 1978 Nobel Prize, sharing it with Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa (Kapitsa's work was unrelated to Penzias and Wilson's). The two had received the Henry Draper Medal the previous year.
Penzias appears on the List of Jewish Nobel Prize winners.
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