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Ralph Asher Alpher was a renowned American physicist whose Ph.D. dissertation in 1948 put forward a plausible mathematical formula covering the Big Bang Theory that spawned the universe 14 billion years ago (Cain). His dissertation was ridiculed and ignored by the scientific community for 16 years until two other scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for Alpher’s discovery (Sullivan). Even after that, the man now firmly recognized as the pioneering architect of the Big Bang Theory for the origin of the universe (Union College) was denied recognition and honor for his discovery until he was literally on his deathbed.
In his dissertation, Dr. Alpher contended that the Big Bang was the logical explanation for the various plentiful elements in the universe. He also contended that the Big Bang had spawned an ‘echo’ which still exists in the universe as leftover radiation in the form of radio waves (Sullivan). Despite the backing of hundreds of supporters (Union College), Alpher’s dissertation was ignored by scientists and astronomers who were skeptical about the Big Bang theory and did not believe its ‘echo’ could be measured.
In 1964 a group associated with Princeton University reported that there existed radio waves in the universe as a legacy of the Big Bang (Sullivan). That same year, two astronomers working for Bell Labs in New Jersey (Cain) who had read the Princeton report, coincidentally discovered the existence of a definite, regular hissing sound when they turned their radio receiver into space. That same year Penzias and Wilson claimed that they had found the existence of leftover radiation from the Big Bang. They were later jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their ‘discovery’ in 1978 (Sullivan).
Alpher, who had tried his best to rectify the record and claim rightful recognition for the discovery, was so demoralized that he suffered a heart attack immediately after the Nobel Prize award was announced in 1978 (Cain). Thankfully, the attack did not prove fatal.
Alpher’s efforts towards gaining recognition for what was rightfully his did prove fruitful, albeit much later when he was about to die. In 2007, President George Bush conferred on him the National Medal of Science which is the most esteemed award for contribution towards science. As Alpher was ill and confined to a wheelchair at that time, his son Victor received the medal on his behalf from the President on July 27, 2007, at the White House. The citation read: “For his unprecedented work in the areas of nucleosynthesis, for the prediction that universe expansion leaves behind background radiation, and for providing the model and the Big Bang Theory” (Union College). Alpher died on August 12, 2007, at the age of 86 in Austin due to acute respiratory failure (Sullivan).
“Big Bang Pioneer Ralph Alpher Dies Following a Long Illness.” Union College. 2007. Web.
Cain, Jeanette. “Alpher, Ralph Asher: 1921-.” Light-Science.com. (N.d). 2008. Web.
Sullivan Patricia. “Ralph A. Alpher: Physicist Published Theory of Big Bang.” The Washington Post. 2007. Web.