Childhood & Early Life
Brian Josephson was born on January 4, 1940, in Cardiff, Wales. His father’s name was Abraham Josephson and his mother’s name was Mimi née Weisbard Josephson. They were Jewish by faith.
He had his schooling at Cardiff High School. During his school years, he was highly influenced by his physics master Emrys Jones, who introduced young Brain to theoretical physics.
When he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1957, he took mathematics as his major. Later he found it rather boring and changed his subject. Ultimately, he graduated with physics in 1960 and enrolled at the same university for his master’s degree. He obtained his MS in 1962.
During his college days, Josephson became known for his intelligence and precision. One of his professors was Nobel Laureate Philip Anderson. He would later say that having Josephson in the class was a ‘disconcerting experience’ because if there was any mistake he would meet him after the class and rectify it politely.
Sometime now, Josephson published a paper on Mössbauer effect, a physical phenomena discovered by Rudolf Mössbauer in 1958. In it, he pointed out certain crucial factors, which other researchers had neglected.
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Straight after graduation, he joined Cavendish Laboratory at the Cambridge University as a research scholar. While still an undergraduate student, he had developed an interest in superconductivity. He soon started exploring the properties of a junction between two conductors.
His experimentation led to the discovery of ‘Josephson Effect’. Later the junction between the two conductors became known as ‘Josephson Junction’. His calculations were published in ‘Physics Letters’ on July 1, 1962 under the title of ‘Possible new effects in superconductive tunnelling’.
Josephson received his PhD in 1964. His doctoral thesis was on ‘Non-linear conduction in superconductors’. He then joined University of Illinois, in 1965, as research assistant professor and remained there till 1966.
He returned to Cambridge at the end of 1966. The following year, he was made assistant director of research at the Cavendish Laboratory. Subsequently, he became a member of the Theory of Condensed Matter group of the university and retained the membership till the end of his career.
In 1972, he was made a Reader in Physics. Next in 1974, he was promoted to the post of a full professor, a position he retained until the end of his career.
By late 1960s, Josephson’s interest turned to philosophy of mind and especially in the relationship between body and mind. He did a lot of work this subject, especially after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1973. He now began to believe that there may be some truth behind parapsychological phenomena like telepathy and psychokinesis.
In 1975, he became a faculty member of the Maharishi European Research University in the Netherlands. The following year, he travelled to California to meet a group of physicists from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, who had been working on different parapsychological phenomena, using ideas from Bell's theorem and quantum entanglement.
In 1978, he organized an interdisciplinary symposium on consciousness at Cambridge University. Later in 1980, he edited and published the proceedings under the title of ‘Consciousness and the Physical World’ along with V.S. Ramchandran.
From 1981 to 1987, he was appointed as a visiting professor at the Computer Science Department of Wayne State University, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and the University of Missouri-Rolla. Simultaneously, he also organized many symposiums and conferences on this subject.
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In 1996, he set up ‘Mind–Matter Unification Project’ at the Cavendish Laboratory in order to explore intelligent processes in nature. He also supported other unorthodox causes such as ‘water memory’, a mechanism by which homeopathic remedies claim to work and ‘cold fusion’, a hypothesized type of nuclear reaction that would occur at room temperature.
However, most of these unorthodox ideas were rejected by many established scientists. At the same time, he received support from many eminent scientists like Keith Rennolis, professor of applied statistics, University of Greenwich.
Josephson retired from University of Cambridge in 2007, but continued working on his pet projects. He discarded the criticism of his fellow scientists as prejudice and censured them for rejecting some ideas much too quickly.
Brian Josephson’s research on quantum tunneling, which resulted in the discovery of ‘Josephson’s effect’ is the most significant of all his works. According to his theory, current could tunnel through a thin insulating barrier between two weakly coupled superconductors even when no voltage is applied, while application of voltage results in oscillation at high frequency.
Known as ‘Josephson’s Effect’, the discovery was later proven experimentally at Bell Laboratory by Philip Anderson and John Rowell. It also led to many new inventions in the fields of computing and medicine.
Superconducting Quantum Interference Device, used in geology for making highly sensitive measurements and prototype of a faster computer built by IBM in 1980 was developed on the basis of Josephson’s theory of quantum tunneling.
Awards & Achievements
In 1973, Brian Josephson received the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his theoretical predictions of the properties of a supercurrent through a tunnel barrier, in particular those phenomena which are generally known as the Josephson effects”. He shared the prize with Leo Esaki and Ivar Giaever, who worked on the theory independently.
In 1982, he was awarded with Faraday Medal by Institution of Electrical Engineers and in 1984 Sir George Thomson Medal by Institute of Measurement and Control.