Press Release

Bell Labs Launches the Bell Labs Prize Dedicated to ‘Inventing the Future’

In 50th anniversary celebration of the seminal cosmic background radiation discovery

Bell Labs, the research arm of Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU), today celebrated the 50th anniversary of the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, one of the strongest pieces of evidence supporting the "Big Bang" theory of the origin of the universe. This discovery in 1964 by Bell Labs scientists Arno Penzias and Robert A. Wilson earned the researchers a Nobel Prize in Physics and provided the basis for future astronomical discoveries.

On the occasion of this celebration, Bell Labs is launching a program to expand the scope of innovation at Bell Labs, in keeping with being the world's pre-eminent research organization in the field of information and communications networking. At the heart of this program is the introduction of the Bell Labs Prize, a competition that will give any researcher, in participating countries around the globe, the chance to introduce their ideas to the world, and collaborate with world-renowned Bell Labs researchers. The Bell Labs Prize winners will take home cash awards worth as much as $100,000, and the chance to further develop their ideas at Bell Labs, where possible. At the heart of the Prize, are some of Bell Labs core convictions that highlight its new direction and mission including:

  • The desire to collaborate with the global innovation community (both inside and outside Bell Labs)

• Researchers and innovators need to be focused on the great challenges that will enable the future 10 years from now, that means to solve problems that require a 10x improvement (or more) in multiple dimensions
• These solutions are at the heart of Bell Labs focus on 10x game-changing research and cross-discipline ‘FutureX' projects that attempt to solve the big problems (many with currently unknown answers to ‘x')

In addition to the unveiling of the Bell Labs Prize, plans for a new remote Bell Labs office near Tel-Aviv, Israel were also announced today by Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes.

"I am excited to see the ideas that come to light through this process, and to introduce many talented young scientists and engineers into the Bell Labs community," said Marcus Weldon, president of Bell Labs and CTO of Alcatel-Lucent. "They will be joining some of the brightest scientists, engineers and mathematicians in the world, who continue to develop world-changing innovations."

Today's Big Bang Bash celebration will take place at Bell Labs facility in Holmdel, New Jersey, in the shadow of the "Horn Antenna", which historically served NASA's passive satellite program, Project ECHO, and was also instrumental in the Big Bang discovery. In attendance were Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, as well as notable scientists and Bell Labs President and Alcatel-Lucent CTO, Marcus Weldon.

Commenting on the celebration, Weldon said, "I think it is fitting that today, as we honor and celebrate this incredible, Nobel Prize-winning achievement by Arno and Bob, we are launching a program intended to inspire world-changing discoveries and innovations by young researchers that may one day walk in their footsteps. The Bell Labs Prize is intended to recognize innovators with the ability and vision to challenge the common assumptions, and find ways to revolutionize the way we live, work, communicate, collaborate and connect with each other and our digital world.

About the Bell Labs Prize:
The Bell Labs Prize is a competition rewarding 10x game-changing proposals in the field of information and communications technologies and related software systems and applications. The competition is open to anyone in one of the participating countries, who ‘owns' an idea and meets the eligibility requirements.

Three prize winners will receive a grant of either $100,000 (grand prize), $50,000 (second place) or $25,000 (third place). Additionally, through the process, Bell Labs may engage with other contest participants as part of the company's recruitment investment in top talent. The deadline to enter the contest is Tuesday, July 15, 2014. For more information, visit the Bell Labs Prize website. No purchase or payment necessary to enter the competition. Void where prohibited.

About the Cosmic Microware Background Radiation Discovery:
Back in 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were conducting experiments with the Holmdel Horn Antenna, an extremely sensitive device originally used to detect radio waves that were bounced off Echo balloon satellites, and later the Telstar, the first active communications satellite. These radio waves were so weak, that it became critical to eliminate all possible interference in order to detect them.

Despite taking all conceivable steps to eliminate interference, they continually detected a strange, buzzing noise that was coming from all parts of the sky at all times of day and night. They did a range of additional testing on the equipment, and even removed some pigeons that were nesting in the antenna and their associate detritus. Still, the sound persisted. They ultimately determined that the noise was coming from outside of our galaxy.

Almost by chance, they later learned that researchers astrophysicists Robert H. Dicke, Jim Peebles and David Wilkinson at nearby Princeton University were looking for a way to detect residual radiation that they believed would have resulted from the Big Bang. As it turned out, the radiation detected by Penzias and Wilson was a perfect match for what the Princeton researchers had predicted, and hence made history.
Arno Penzias said: "When we first heard that inexplicable ‘hum', we didn't understand its significance, and we never dreamed it would be connected to the origins of the universe. It wasn't until we exhausted every possible explanation for the sound's origin that we realized we had stumbled upon something big."

Robert A. Wilson said: "We've often said that there was no ‘a-ha' moment - we were simply trying to explain something that we didn't understand. It's inspiring to know the implications of one's research, and that you form a part of a vast scientific legacy."

John C. Mather, Senior Astrophysicist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said: "Looking back, we can clearly see that Penzias and Wilson sparked the growth of an industry that has changed cosmology from speculation to spectacular precision, with many thousands of published papers, thousands of scientists and engineers involved, and already two Nobel prizes and perhaps a third yet to come. What an amazing result!"

Additional Resources:

  • BuzzFeed Article: 7 Scientific Discoveries That Happened By Accident

• The Big Bang: A Timeline of Discovery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alcatel-lucent/14225728072/

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