Weinberg at the 2010 Texas Book Festival
May 3, 1933 |
New York City
|Louise Weinberg (m. 1954)|
|Children||1 : Elizabeth Weinberg|
|Thesis||The role of strong interactions in decay processes (1957)|
|Doctoral advisor||Sam Treiman|
Steven Weinberg (born May 3, 1933) is an American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate in Physics for his contributions with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow to the unification of the weak force and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles.
He holds the Josey Regental Chair in Science at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a member of the Physics and Astronomy Departments. His research on elementary particles and physical cosmology has been honored with numerous prizes and awards, including in 1979 the Nobel Prize in Physics and in 1991 the National Medal of Science. In 2004 he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal of the American Philosophical Society, with a citation that said he is "considered by many to be the preeminent theoretical physicist alive in the world today." He has been elected to the US National Academy of Sciences and Britain's Royal Society, as well as to the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Weinberg's articles on various subjects occasionally appear in The New York Review of Books and other periodicals. He has served as consultant at the U. S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, President of the Philosophical Society of Texas, and member of the Board of Editors of Daedalus magazine, the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress, the JASON group of defense consultants, and many other boards and committees.
Steven Weinberg was born in 1933 in New York City. His parents were immigrants. He graduated from Bronx High School of Science in 1950. He was in the same graduating class as Sheldon Glashow, whose own research, independent of Weinberg's, would result in their (and Abdus Salam) sharing the 1979 Nobel in Physics (see below).
Weinberg received his bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 1954. He then went to the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen where he started his graduate studies and research. After one year, Weinberg moved to Princeton University where he earned his PhD degree in physics in 1957, for research supervised by Sam Treiman.
After completing his PhD, Weinberg worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University (1957-1959) and University of California, Berkeley (1959) and then he was promoted to faculty at Berkeley (1960-1966). He did research in a variety of topics of particle physics, such as the high energy behavior of quantum field theory, symmetry breaking,pion scattering, infrared photons and quantum gravity. It was also during this time that he developed the approach to quantum field theory that is described in the first chapters of his book The Quantum Theory of Fields and started to write his textbook Gravitation and Cosmology. Both textbooks are among the most influential texts in the scientific community in their subjects.
In 1966, Weinberg left Berkeley and accepted a lecturer position at Harvard. In 1967 he was a visiting professor at MIT. It was in that year at MIT that Weinberg proposed his model of unification of electromagnetism and of nuclear weak forces (such as those involved in beta-decay and kaon-decay), with the masses of the force-carriers of the weak part of the interaction being explained by spontaneous symmetry breaking. One of its fundamental aspects was the prediction of the existence of the Higgs boson. Weinberg's model, now known as the electroweak unification theory, had the same symmetry structure as that proposed by Glashow in 1961: hence both models included the then-unknown weak interaction mechanism between leptons, known as neutral current and mediated by the Z boson. The 1973 experimental discovery of weak neutral currents (mediated by this Z boson) was one verification of the electroweak unification. The paper by Weinberg in which he presented this theory is one of the most cited works ever in high energy physics.
After his 1967 seminal work on the unification of weak and electromagnetic interactions, Steven Weinberg continued his work in many aspects of particle physics, quantum field theory, gravity, supersymmetry, superstrings and cosmology, as well as a theory called Technicolor.
In the years after 1967, the full Standard Model of elementary particle theory was developed through the work of many contributors. In it, the weak and electromagnetic interactions already unified by the work of Weinberg, Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow, are made consistent with a theory of the strong interactions between quarks, in one overarching theory. In 1973 Weinberg proposed a modification of the Standard Model which did not contain that model's fundamental Higgs boson.
Weinberg became Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics at Harvard University in 1973.
In 1979 he pioneered the modern view on the renormalization aspect of quantum field theory that considers all quantum field theories as effective field theories and changed the viewpoint of previous work (including his own in his 1967 paper) that a sensible quantum field theory must be renormalizable. This approach allowed the development of effective theory of quantum gravity, low energy QCD, heavy quark effective field theory and other developments, and it is a topic of considerable interest in current research.
In 1979, some six years after the experimental discovery of the neutral currents - i.e. the discovery of the inferred existence of the Z boson - but following the 1978 experimental discovery of the theory's predicted amount of parity violation due to Z bosons' mixing with electromagnetic interactions, Weinberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, together with Sheldon Glashow, and Abdus Salam who had independently proposed a theory of electroweak unification based on spontaneous symmetry breaking.
In 1982 Weinberg moved to the University of Texas at Austin as the Jack S. Josey-Welch Foundation Regents Chair in Science and founded the Theory Group of the Physics Department.
There is current (2008) interest in Weinberg's 1976 proposal of the existence of new strong interactions - a proposal dubbed "Technicolor" by Leonard Susskind - because of its chance of being observed in the LHC as an explanation of the hierarchy problem.
Besides his scientific research, Steven Weinberg has been a prominent public spokesman for science, testifying before Congress in support of the Superconducting Super Collider, writing articles for the New York Review of Books, and giving various lectures on the larger meaning of science. His books on science written for the public combine the typical scientific popularization with what is traditionally considered history and philosophy of science and atheism.
Weinberg was a major participant in what is known as the Science Wars, standing with Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt, Alan Sokal, Lewis Wolpert, and Richard Dawkins, on the side arguing for the hard realism of science and scientific knowledge and against the constructionism proposed by such social scientists as Stanley Aronowitz, Barry Barnes, David Bloor, David Edge, Harry Collins, Steve Fuller, and Bruno Latour.
Although still teaching physics, he has, in recent years, turned his hand to the history of science, efforts that culminated in To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science (2015). A hostile review in the Wall Street Journal by Steven Shapin attracted a number of commentaries, a response by Weinberg, and an exchange of views between Weinberg and Arthur Silverstein in the NYRB in February 2016.
In 2016, he became a default figurehead for faculty and students opposed to a new law that allowed the carrying of concealed guns in UT classrooms. Weinberg announced that he would be prohibiting guns from his classes, and said he would stand by his decision to violate university regulations in this matter even if faced with a lawsuit.
Weinberg has canceled trips to universities in the United Kingdom because of British boycotts directed towards Israel. He has explained:
Weinberg is an atheist. Weinberg stated his views on religion in 1999:
Frederick Douglass told in his Narrative how his condition as a slave became worse when his master underwent a religious conversion that allowed him to justify slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham. Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God's will. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil--that takes religion.
The honors and awards that Professor Weinberg received include:
This article is based on a talk given in April 1999 at the Conference on Cosmic Design of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.Ibid. footnote 1.