A. Lange: Acceptance Speech – Rome, 24.11.2006
Italy - USA
Paolo de Bernardis and Andrew Lange
2006 Balzan Prize for Observational Astronomy and Astrophysics
For their contributions to cosmology, in particular the BOOMERanG Antarctic balloon experiment.
Members of the Balzan Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am both delighted and humbled to be here in the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei to accept the Balzan Prize for Observational Astronomy and Astrophysics. Galileo joined the Accademia almost 400 years ago. Were he here with us today, I think that he would be astounded and pleased to see the results of the program that he began when he turned a telescope to the heavens for the first time. He is quoted as saying “Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so”. This sentiment perfectly describes our modern quest to see – and to measure – what previously could not be seen, and to extend our measurements to the furthest reaches of the Universe, and to the very beginning of time.
Paolo and I have been fortunate to be part of an exciting revolution that has transformed cosmology from speculation to a precision science. Our small contribution to this revolution has been to capture the first resolved images of the embryonic Universe, using a telescope flown on a balloon high over the Antarctic.
While it is flattering that the Balzan committee selected Paolo and me for this award, the truth is that the decades-long struggle to make these images began when we were young children and has involved many distinguished physicists – including our mentors, our students, and our competitors – who deserve to share this award. We are grateful to the Balzan Foundation for recognizing, via this prize, the achievements of our entire community. We share a passionate curiosity about the origins of the Universe that has driven many of us literally to the ends of the earth in search of answers.
The search has been often frustrating, but never lonely thanks to the wonderful people who share this passion. I have had three wise and generous mentors along the way: David Wilkinson, John Mather and Paul Richards. Our work has been guided by great theorists, in particular Richard Bond and Marc Kamionkowski, and nurtured in the remarkably supportive culture of research and discovery that exists at the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories where I have spent the last 14 years. I have been inspired by brilliant students and postdoctoral fellows from my group at Caltech, especially Jamie Bock, Brendan Crill, Bill Jones, Phil Mauskopf and Barth Netterfield, who have all been essential to the success of BOOMERanG.
The revolution in cosmology has only just begun. Though many outstanding problems have been solved, some very serious new questions have been raised. It is impossible to predict how and when we will finally understand the nature of the dark energy and dark matter that we now believe comprise most of the universe, or how and when we will understand the physics of the inflation that we believe spawned our observable Universe. It is especially fitting then, that the Balzan Foundation stipulates that half of the Prize be used to support the research of young scientists, for it is they who will make the next set of breakthroughs. I hope that my portion of the research funds will support new efforts by young scientists to peer yet further back in time, to the moment of inflation itself, using a new generation of telescopes at the South Pole and on high-altitude balloons.
On a personal note, it is of special significance to receive this honor here in Rome. I remember quite vividly coming here to meet with Paolo almost exactly 14 years ago to begin to design BOOMERanG. My memories of the trip are vivid in part because of my excitement about BOOMERanG and collaborating with Paolo but also, I must admit, because I had just two weeks earlier met the woman whom I would marry. I am very pleased to be able to bring Frances, our 3 children and my parents here to Rome to celebrate with me.
In closing, I thank the Balzan Foundation for recognizing the cultural importance of curiosity-driven research. It is my hope that our attempts to better understand the origins of the Universe will continue to yield surprises that delight and inspire future generations of scientists.