It is often said that physicists are usually of two types, the first type are the ones who delve into nature and study it like a book and the second type are the ones who write the book of nature. John Stewart Bell fell in the first category and his work reflected his conservative nature. Determined to be a scientist at a very young age, Bell probably traversed the entire academic spectrum of Physics and then moved to the Mecca of quantum physics—CERN, Geneva—with his wife Mary Ross. It was his knack for novel ideas and an immense knowledge of theoretical and practical physics which made him one of the greatest scientists the world has ever seen. A little conservative, Bell never liked unconventional and speculative suggestions. After years of dedicated research, he arrived at the infamous ‘Bell’s theorem’ which challenged the theories of Einstein and other famous physicists. He was also known for his work in Superdeterminism, Chiral anomaly and Quantum entanglement. A pioneer in the field of quantum physics, Bell is remembered for his unmatched contribution to the world of science.
Childhood & Early Life
John Stewart Bell was born on 28 June 1928, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to John and Annie Bell. Both his parents came from a working class family.
Even though his family was not academically inclined, he was chosen to be educated by his parents and his brothers were self-taught. After winning a scholarship, he graduated from Belfast Technical High School in 1944.
In 1948, Bell earned his bachelor’s degree in experimental physics from the Queen’s University of Belfast. The next year, he received another degree in mathematical physics from the same university.
He completed his doctoral studies and received his PhD in 1956 from the University of Birmingham. His specialisation was in nuclear physics and quantum field theory.
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With a poor financial background, Bell chose to join the Scientific Civil Services even before completing his PhD. The great crystallographer and Bell’s former teacher Paul Peter Ewald advised Bell to apply to the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell.
His next job was at an accelerator design group at Malvern, where his theoretical and practical problem solving skills in accelerator design were highly recognized. This is also where he met his future wife Mary Ross. Their partnership was exemplary in the field of Physics.
Bell took a leave of absence of one year and worked in the Department of Mathematical Physics at the University of Birmingham from 1953 to 1954. His work here was also a part of his PhD thesis and he concentrated his research on the field of quantum field theory and nuclear physics.
In 1960, Bell and his wife resigned from their tenured positions and moved to CERN in Geneva where they took up untenured positions. They stayed there till the end of their careers.
Bell spent a year at Stanford University, the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Brandeis University after taking a year long leave from CERN. After this, he published his highly famous paper titled, ‘On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox’ in 1964.
In this work, he showed the derivation of the famous Bell’s theorem after continuing the EPR analysis. His theory faced several disagreements and led to many debates.
In 1987, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him as the Foreign Honorary member.
Bell’s paper entitled ‘On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox’ was one of his most important papers. The paper referring to the experiments of Einstein and others brought out the most radical opinions in the field of quantum theory. The paper also led to the postulation of the famous ‘Bell’s Theorem’.
Awards & Achievements
Honour and recognition came quite early for Bell with his election to the Royal Society in 1972.
Working on some major theories in Physics in the 1980s, he won several other honours like the Reality Foundation Prize (with John Clauser), the Dirac Medal, and the Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics and the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society.
Personal Life & Legacy
Bell married Mary Ross, also a physicist, in 1954. They met in UK while working on accelerator physics.
Bell died on October 1, 1990, at the age of 62, due to cerebral haemorrhage.
In 2008, in his honour, Centre for Quantum Information and Quantum Control at the University of Toronto, created the John Stewart Bell Prize to recognize major advances relating to the foundations of quantum mechanics and to the applications of these principles.
This prominent physicist decided to become a scientist at the tender age of 11 and was often called ‘The Prof’ by his family.