Press Release

Nobelist George Smoot to direct Korean cosmology institute

| 10 December 2008

Nobel Laureate George Smoot has been appointed director of a new cosmology institute in South Korea that will work closely with the year-old Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics (BCCP) at the University of California, Berkeley, to explore and understand the early universe.

George SmootGeorge Smoot (Peg Skorpinski photo)
Last week, South Korea's Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology named Smoot a visiting scholar at Ewha (eee-hua) Womans University, a private university in Seoul where he will teach several courses over the next five years as he oversees the creation of the Institute for the Early Universe. Smoot was one of two Nobel Laureates chosen to set up top-notch research programs through South Korea's World Class University program.

"South Korea wants to step up its international collaborations and interact with foreign cosmologists in a serious way, and we were able to get funding to do it," said Smoot, a professor of physics at UC Berkeley and a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). He shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering fluctuations in the sky's microwave radiation dating from the creation of the universe more than 13.5 billion years ago.

"We are planning to build a world class research center in Korea in the areas of fundamental physics, astrophysics and space technology," he added, while encouraging the training and exchange of people between Ewha Womans University and other South Korean institutes, such as the Korea Institute for Advanced Studies, the Electronics and Telecommunication Research Institute, the Korean Astronomy and Space Institute and the Korean Aerospace Research Institute.

Smoot is particularly interested in partnering with South Korean scientists to build and launch small and relatively inexpensive "microsatellites" to study the first galaxies to appear in the early universe. Korean scientists are at the forefront of research on micromirrors, which are now used in satellite imaging, but which also would make it possible for spaceborne telescopes to observe many individual galaxies at once.

The visiting scholar appointment came through the ministry's competitive program to strengthen South Korea's research-oriented universities, the so-called World Class University project. The South Korean government committed a total of 825 billion won ($571 million), or 165 billion won a year through 2012, to the project, according to Seoul's Joong Ang Daily newspaper.

The new institute was made possible through matching grants from Ewha Womans University. Depending on how the South Korean economy fares in the global financial crisis, the institute is slated to receive $2 million or more per year for five years to get off the ground. The money will fund laboratory space and up to 10 fellowships for post-doctoral scholars.

Smoot's partners at Ewha Womans University are theoretical physicist Changrim Ahn and astronomers Jongmann Yang, Il H. Park and Chanju Kim. His UC Berkeley and LBNL colleagues are cosmologists Eric Linder, deputy director of BCCP, and Uros Seljak, UC Berkeley professor of physics.

Ewha Womans University is the largest women's university in the world, enrolling nearly 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It typically is ranked among the top 10 universities in South Korea.

"I am personally also interested in strong outreach and education programs to bring science to the Korean public, development of learning and teaching material for middle and high school math and science and in building a branch of Global Teachers' Academy in Seoul to prepare and supply the appropriate teachers," Smoot said.

Over the past year, the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics has been assembling a stellar team of researchers to unravel the physics describing the history and fate of the universe. Created in December 2007 with seed money from Smoot's Nobel Prize winnings, its goal is to investigate a broad range of questions about the origins and structure of the universe and the nature of dark matter and dark energy. The center joins forces with Mexican and German scientists each year to host an annual Cosmology on the Beach workshop, which in 2009 will take place Jan. 12-16 in Los Cabos, Mexico.

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