The Nobel Laureate George Smoot joins the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and the Donostia International Physics Center

The eminent scientist will be joining the Department of Polymers and Advanced Materials: Physics, Chemistry and Technology at the UPV/EHU, working specifically with the DIPC's research project on cosmology and astrophysics

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First publication date: 20/11/2020

From left to right, Pedro Miguel Etxenike, George Smoot (on screen), Nekane Balluerka and Jokin Bildarratz
From left to right, Pedro Miguel Etxenike, George Smoot (on screen), Nekane Balluerka and Jokin Bildarratz. Photo: UPV/EHU.

Professor George F. Smoot, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006, will soon be conducting his research at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and the Donostia International Physics Center (DIPC). This extraordinary piece of news was announced this morning at a press conference attended by the renowned American physicist himself, Nekane Balluerka, Vice-Chancellor of the UPV/EHU, Jokin Bildarratz, Regional Basque Minister for Education and Pedro Miguel Etxenike, President of the DIPC and Professor of Condensed Matter Physics at the UPV/EHU. Professor Smoot will be joining the team as a Distinguished Research Fellow within the Department of Polymers and Advanced Materials: Physics, Chemistry and Technology at the University of the Basque Country, and will also be attached to the DIPC.

George F. Smoot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006, alongside John C. Mather, for the discovery of the black body form and anisotropy of cosmic microwave background radiation. His work demonstrated the existence of irregularities in the early universe, just after the Big Bang, identifying these irregularities as the origin of the subsequent formation of the galaxies. Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley and Director of the Centre for Fundamental Physics at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), he also lectured at the University of Paris, although he will be leaving this post now in order to join the UPV/EHU.

By having Smoot join its team, the University of the Basque Country aims to strengthen its research and teaching activities in the field, building on the already close collaboration between George Smoot and the group led by Ikerbasque researcher Thomas Broadhurst at the UPV/EHU's Physics Department. The DIPC will also benefit from Smoot's arrival, since it will boost the ambitious line of research in cosmology and astrophysics that the centre established three years ago and formalise the scientific collaboration which was already under way between the Nobel Laureate and Ikerbasque researchers Silvia Bonoli and Raúl Angulo.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Smoot himself has not yet been able to move to San Sebastián. He joined the press conference online from Paris, stating that: 'I have been collaborating intensively for some time now with research teams in the Basque Country, specifically from the University of the Basque Country and DIPC, and we have several major projects in progress. For example, the exact measurement of neutrino mass, which was one of the main motivations for my first visit to DIPC in San Sebastian. But it led to further research activities and shared interests, such as the effect of gravitational lenses or the nature of dark matter.'

George Smoot will be joining the DIPC thanks to a collaboration agreement the centre has signed with the UPV/EHU. The UPV/EHU is a member of the DIPC's Governing Board and, alongside Tecnalia, the DIPC is a member of the Euskampus International Campus of Excellence, led by the UPV/EHU, and has been designated a Centre of Excellence by the Basque Regional Government's Department of Education, within its BERC (Basque Excellence Research Centres) programme.

In the words of the University President, Nekane Balluerka, the arrival of Professor Smoot is of the utmost importance: 'This year has been full of difficulties, but we started it by announcing the recruitment of one Nobel Laureate, Albert Fert, and we will be ending it with the arrival of another, George F. Smoot. In economics we talk about counter-cyclical measures, which are designed to stimulate activity during economic crises and recessions. Well, I believe this concept can also be applied to academic life: at what is a difficult moment for us, we are activating our research and taking it to the very highest international level. We have created a scientific environment which is attractive for top-tier researchers. Professor Smoot's arrival at the UPV/EHU is also good news for the students on our Master's and Doctoral courses, who will benefit from his knowledge and prestige.'

For his part, Pedro Miguel Etxenike expressed his satisfaction at sharing the press conference with the Regional Minister and the Vice-Chancellor: 'we are delighted to have collaborated with the University of the Basque Country in attracting a researcher of George Smoot's calibre. It is a testament to the excellent science carried out in our environment, with our research university at the forefront, firmly and unconditionally support by the Regional Basque Government. Whereas Albert Fert has been a friend and collaborator at the DIPC for many years, our relationship with George Smoot is relatively new, but it has already proven very fruitful and has given rise to several joint research projects. His interest in collaborating with us is an important source of motivation for everyone, and proof that the DIPC's commitment to diversifying and broadening its research lines to other fields of physics is well-founded and a sure path to a bright future.'

The Regional Basque Minister for Education, Jokin Bildarratz, stated that he was 'sure that, in addition to the scientific breakthroughs he may achieve in the Basque Country, the mere fact of having him near and feeling his enthusiasm will have a strong motivating effect on all scientists working in our country, particularly the younger ones. But no one should make the mistake of thinking that recruiting top tier scientists is just a question of money. People like George Smoot do not come just because you offer them a contract. When a researcher of his calibre makes a commitment to a project, it is because they value the level of scientific and research excellence it offers. We have made significant progress in the Basque Country over recent years, with the Government, the University of the Basque Country and the other organisations and centres which make up the Basque Science, Technology and Innovation Network all working together towards a common goal.'