Irene Worthington Baron

COSMIC-BACKGROUND-RADIATION-AND-AT&T

COSMIC BACKGROUND RADIATION AND AT&T

I've been fortunate enough to have met and talked with two Nobel Prize winners, Mr. Willard Libby Ph.D. and Mr. Arno Penzias Ph.D.

Dr. Libby was the team leader for the development of the radioactive carbon-14 dating process. Dr. Penzias and his associate, Robert Wilson Ph.D., discovered the cosmic background radiation of the Big Bang while employed with Bell Laboratories, now AT&T.

When I was selected as Governor's Fellow and Ohio's AT&T Technology Teacher of the Year in 1994, AT&T funded my trip to experience their research facilities in New Jersey and New York. It was in New Jersey I had to opportunity to walk and talk with Dr. Penzias, along with technology teachers from other states. Dr. Penzias took us to the large device that was used in finding the background cosmic radiation, the Holmdel Horn Antenna. Resembling a large, moveable funnel, the device was a microwave-sensitive antenna and receiver for observations of the cosmos.

Dr. Penzias appeared very modest about his achievement with the cosmic background radiation. It seemed he likened it to a serendipity type of situation. He said he expected the antenna to have been dismantled until it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The Holmdel Horn Antenna used to find cosmic background radiation.

 The horn antenna device was originally built to support Project Echo. The 1960 Project Echo involved a large, space, satellite-balloon off which radio signals could be reflected. When viewed from Earth, it looked like a moving star. Begun with other directors, the antenna was finally completed at the Holmdel Laboratory shops in New Jersey under the direction of Arthur B. Crawford.  The horn antenna (50-feet long) and elevation wheel (30-feet in diameter) rest on a base allowing rotation. To alleviate stress, when not in use the 18-ton antenna was free to move like a wind vane.

 When the two Bell Laboratory (later named AT&T) astronomers tried to use the horn-shaped device for radio astronomy observations, they detected radio wave interference. Dr. Penzias and his associate thought it might be radiation from terrestrial sources. Targeting New York City, with experimentation, they found the interference was not terrestrial in nature. Not knowing the origin of the radiation, they published their data.

Nuclear physicist Robert Dicke Ph.D. later identified the interference as background radiation remaining from what was previously theorized as the Big Bang. This confirmed the Big Bang as the beginning of the universe as we know it.

In a religious context, the Big Bang theory was mentioned in 1951 by Pope Pius XII who compared the Fiat Lux (let there be light) to the material that came from nothing to create light, radiation, and elements that formed the universe. In 1996, Pope John Paul II showed favor of the Big Bang theory. The Catholic Church officially supported the Big Bang theory for the beginning of creation.

What did I think of the antenna? At first I wasn't sure what I thought. It didn't look like something that would have been used in such an important experiment. That proved my expectations as to the appearance of technical devices had to change. It was a learning experience. They provided many items, photographs, videos, etc. to use in our classrooms along with training. We were given the opportunity to meet with scientists in many stages of their research. I was most impressed with ongoing research involving lasers and with one young woman who was using electrostatic imaging to create circuit boards.  What was most important was the knowledge I gained by spending over a week with the AT&T scientists. That was an eye opening event which stimulated my love of science and my teaching in the classroom. Did my students benefit? Absolutely. AT&T personnel let me have disks from which computer boards were cut. I had one free of any designs and another which could be trimmed into 100+ circuit boards. They gave me a little spool of optic fiber, explaining its use in transoceanic cables. In discussing their latest trans-Atlantic cable, the speaker mentioned the cost of the cable at over $25,000,000.

I posed the question, "How long will it take AT&T to recoup that expenditure?"

The gentleman said, "About two weeks." Everyone gasped at the concept.

Always curious, I asked, "What will you do with all that profit?"

"Research. Always research." The gentleman then went on to discuss AT&T and how they found the scientists to do the research at their facilities. He told us that scientists at AT&T were requested to keep an eye out for up and coming young students who were not only brilliant, but had the "spark" of creativity. As an example, he said one scientist from Norway visited his home college. He asked the physics department head if he had any "good ones." The answer was yes and a young freshman student was described. The scientist was introduced to the student and met the family. He brought that information back to AT&T who contacted the student. The student was contracted by AT&T who guaranteed they would pay all the young man's expenses through his doctorate degree. Then he would come to work at the AT&T research laboratories.

What would the young man research? Anything he wanted. He would not be limited to any technology or any subject. The young man was given laboratory space and asked, "What do you want in your laboratory?" Anything he needed for his research was provided, whether it had to be constructed from his description or purchased from anywhere in the world. They even employed glass blowers who would create any glass instrument needed by their researchers. The young man from Norway was given free reign to research whatever he wanted with whatever equipment he wanted. There was no price limit. If his research equipment cost in the millions of dollars, no questions were asked. AT&T provided the equipment.

 No wonder AT&T was so fantastic with up-and-coming products. Many concepts I saw in the research stages in 1994 are now being used by John Doe public. What a phenomenal concept. Pure research sponsored by a company that respected education. They respected education so much, all employees had their continuing education reimbursed up through and beyond their doctoral degrees. How awesome is that?

 In comparison, I have a cousin in Fresno, CA who paid for all his physical therapists to obtain their Ph.D. in physical therapy. Guess what type of competence they offer? You can't go wrong with education. Any company who recognizes that and supports their employees in learning will grow.

 Every since my experience with AT&T, I have total respect for that company. I doubt if many persons ever learned about their phenomenal research. I don't even know if they still continue in that research mode. What an fantastic company that must be to work for. Wish I could be hired to teach in their employee workshops. With their attitude and my experience, it would be awesome! :-)

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