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Since 1925 UCLA has honored its most distinguished scholars by selecting them to deliver this special annual lecture. By honoring them in this way, members of the academic community have an opportunity to appreciate these scholars' achievements in a way they may not have otherwise had.


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105th Faculty Research Lecture

Observing the Origin of the Universe: A Century of Progress in Cosmology

Edward L. "Ned" Wright,
Professor of Physics and Astronomy
David S. Saxon Presidential Chair in Physics

October 28, 2008


Edward L. "Ned" Wright, the David S. Saxon Presidential Chair in Physics, calls cosmology an “interesting kind of science.”
“It’s not physics, where you can do an experiment, and if you want to make sure you’ve got the answer right, you can do the experiment again. You can do it many times and average those times together to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “With cosmology, you’ve only got one universe, so you just have to observe it. You can invent different ways of observing it, and then you can calculate based on what we do with the laws of physics and the laboratory.

Wright’s interest in the stars and planets began when he was a youngster growing up in Virginia. Reading his way through the 520 section in the public library (astronomy, in the Dewey Decimal system), Wright built his own telescope when he was in high school. Between earning a bachelor’s degree in physics (1969) and a Ph.D. in astronomy (1976) from Harvard University, Wright spent a year with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., where he boarded ships to Portugal, England and Hawaii to study underwater sound.

In 1982, Wright came to UCLA as a professor in the physics and astronomy department. He is the PI on the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) Midex proposal, which used to be called NGSS. He has been working on the COsmic Background Explorer (COBE) since 1978. In 1992 he received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer.

Prof. Wright is also working on the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). WMAP is a mission to follow-up the COBE discovery of fluctuations in the early Universe. It will observe the structure of the Universe 300,000 years after the Big Bang with better angular resolution than the COBE mission, and thus be able to detect the seeds of present day superclusters of galaxies. MAP was launched on 30 June 2001 and released in first year of data on 11 Feb 2003. In 2004 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2007 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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