John Robert Schrieffer Biography


Birthday: May 31, 1931 (Gemini)

Born In: Oak Park, Illinois, USA

John Robert Schrieffer was an American physicist noted for his contributions in developing the BCS theory, along with fellow American physicists John Bardeen and Leon N Cooper. It was the first successful and widely accepted superconductivity theory. This scientific contribution of the trio won them the ‘Nobel Prize in Physics’ in 1972. He was still a graduate level student under John Bardeen at the University of Illinois when he worked with Bardeen and Cooper to develop, elucidate and publish the BCS theory of superconductivity, the acronym of which was formed by combining initial letters of surnames of its developers namely Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer in that order. He aided in explaining the reason behind metals losing their electrical resistance when temperature is quite low. He also contributed in developing another theory that is related to high temperature superconductivity. Over decades he remained an academician imparting education at several universities at different point of time. These include ‘University of Chicago’; ‘University of Pennsylvania’, Philadelphia; ‘University of Illinois’; ‘University of California’, Santa Barbara; ‘Florida State University’; and ‘Cornell University’. He became Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at ‘Cornell University’ and Mary Amanda Wood professor in physics at the ‘University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. He received several awards and recognitions including the ‘Guggenheim Fellowship’, the ‘Comstock Prize in Physics’ (1968) and the ‘National Medal of Science’ (1983) among others. Amidst all the success and accomplishments he had to face a sentence of two years for vehicular manslaughter when he lost control while driving and crashed a vehicle resulting in killing its driver and injuring seven more people. He served his sentence at the ‘Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility’ located at the Rock Mountain close to San Diego, California.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 88


Spouse/Ex-: Anne Grete Thomsen

father: John H. Schrieffer

mother: Louise Anderson

children: Bolette, Paul, Regina

Born Country: United States

Physicists American Men

Died on: July 27, 2019

place of death: Tallahassee, Florida, U.S.

U.S. State: Illinois

More Facts

education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

awards: National Medal of Science (1983)
Nobel Prize for Physics (1972)
Comstock Prize in Physics (1968)

Childhood & Early Life

John Robert Schrieffer was born on May 31, 1931, in Oak Park, Illinois, to John H. Schrieffer and Louise Anderson.

His family relocated to Manhasset, New York, in 1940.

In 1947, the family again shifted to Florida, where his father embarked into the citrus industry and became an orange grove owner.

Schrieffer attended the ‘Eustis High School’ in Eustis, Florida, and completed his graduation in 1949.

He then headed north to Massachusetts and enrolled at the ‘Massachusetts Institute of Technology’ (‘MIT’) to study electrical engineering. However after majoring in electrical engineering for two years, he switched to physics in the third year. In 1953, he obtained BS in Physics from the institute submitting his thesis on multiplets in heavy atoms under the guidance of distinguished American physicist John C. Slater.

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His interest in solid state physics landed him at Illinois to pursue graduate studies at the ‘University of Illinois’ at Urbana-Champaign. Soon he was inducted as research assistant in the lab of John Bardeen.
While at the lab of Bardeen he initially concentrated to work on a theoretical problem regarding electrical conduction on semiconductor surfaces. He then went on to apply such theory to various surface problems for about a year.

John Robert Schrieffer got involved in developing the theory of superconductivity with Bardeen and Cooper in 1956, during the third year of his graduate studies. The same year Cooper, who was also working as an assistant in the lab of Bardeen, discovered that electrons, which usually behave repulsively with each other, could however be paired when temperature conditions are extremely low. This concept is known as Cooper pairs. As temperature increases well above absolute zero the Cooper pairs breaks.

Following this discovery of Cooper, Schrieffer embarked on to find a mathematical description of behaviour of the Cooper pairs. His mathematical breakthrough came in early 1957, when he succeeded in developing the essential equations. The ‘BCS’ theory was completed and announced later that year.

In 1957, he earned his PhD from the ‘University of Illinois’ at Urbana-Champaign. His doctoral thesis included his theoretical work on superconductivity.

During 1957-58, John Robert Schrieffer remained a ‘National Science Foundation’ fellow at the ‘University of Birmingham’ in England. In 1958, he remained a scholar at the ‘Niels Bohr Institute’, ‘University of Copenhagen’, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He extended his research work on superconductivity at both these places.

In 1958, he joined ‘University of Chicago’ as an assistant professor.

In 1959, he returned to Illinois to work as a faculty member at the ‘University of Illinois’.

In 1962, he joined the faculty at the ‘University of Pennsylvania’. He was named Mary Amanda Wood Professor in Physics there in 1964. That year his book on BCS theory titled ‘Theory of Superconductivity’ was published.

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From 1969 to 1975, Schrieffer remained Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at the ‘Cornell University’.

Accepting an offer from the ‘University of California’, Santa Barbara, he joined as a professor in 1980. His career in the university advanced steadily that saw him becoming the chancellor professor in 1984. He was also made the director of the ‘Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics’ of the university that year. He served both the positions till 1992.

He was inducted as an eminent scholar professor by the ‘Florida State University’ in 1992. The university also made him the Chief Scientist of its ‘National High Magnetic Field Laboratory’, which conducts magnetic field research in physics, chemistry, biology, biochemistry, geochemistry and bioengineering. It is the only such research lab in the US.

He retired in 2006, and concentrated on the field of high temperature superconductivity, highly correlated electrons and dynamics of electrons in powerful magnetic fields.

He was conferred honorary degrees from American universities such as ‘University of Cincinnati’, ‘University of Pennsylvania’ and ‘University of Illinois’; and also from other foreign universities like the ‘University of Geneva’, Switzerland; the ‘Technical University of Munich’, Germany; and the ‘Tel Aviv University’, Israel.

John Robert Schrieffer was a member of many prestigious scientific academies, including ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’, ‘American Philosophical Society’, ‘National Academy of Sciences’, ‘Royal Danish Academy of Sciences’ and Russian ‘Academy of Sciences’.

He served as chair of the Scientific Council of the ‘International Centre for Theoretical Physics’ in Trieste, Italy, and also as president of the ‘American Physical Society’.
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Awards & Achievements

John Robert Schrieffer jointly received the ‘Nobel Prize in Physics’ in 1972 with noted physicists, John Bardeen and Leon N Cooper.

Personal Life, Legacy & Death

John Robert Schrieffer married Anne Grete Thomsen in 1960. They had three children - two daughters, Bolette and Regina, and a son, Paul.

On September 24, 2004, he got involved in an accident while driving from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, when his car crashed into another vehicle killing its 57 year old driver Renato Catolos and injuring seven more persons in Orcutt, California. Schrieffer’s driver licence was under suspension during that time. He was driving at a speed over 100 miles per hour when he lost control resulting into the accident.

On November 6, 2005, he was sentenced to two years of prison for vehicular manslaughter to which he pleaded no contest. He was confined in the ‘Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility’ situated at the Rock Mountain close to San Diego, California.


John Robert Schrieffer died on July 27, 2019, in his sleep at a nursing facility in Florida. He was 88.

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