Leon N Cooper is an American physicist renowned for his contributions in developing the BCS theory, the first successful and widely accepted superconductivity theory. He developed it along with fellow American physicists, John Bardeen and John Robert Schrieffer. This contribution of the trio led them to jointly receive the ‘Nobel Prize in Physics’ in 1972. In the BCS theory he discovered that when normal conditions prevail, electrons behave repulsively with each other, while they are drawn towards each other in superconductors. This concept was named after him as Cooper electron pairs. He also investigated the brain and the central nervous system and the low-temperature superfluid state. A ‘Thomas J. Watson Senior Professor of Science’ at the ‘Brown University’, Cooper has also developed the BCM theory, which is considerably the most accurate model of synaptic plasticity till present. He is the Director of the ‘Institute for Brain and Neural Systems’ at the ‘Brown University’. Apart from the ‘Nobel Prize’, he was also honoured with the ‘Comstock Prize’ in Physics by the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ in 1968 (received along with John Robert Schrieffer), the ‘Descartes Medal’ by the ‘Academie de Paris’, ‘Université René Descartes’, in 1977, the ‘John Jay Award’ of ‘Columbia College’ in 1985 and the ‘College de France Medal’ in 2000.
Childhood & Early Life
Leon N Cooper was born on February 28, 1930, in New York, United States.
He attended ‘Bronx High School of Science’ and completed his graduation in 1947.
Following his graduation he joined ‘Columbia University’, from where he completed his formal education obtaining a B.A. degree in 1951, an M.A. degree in 1953 and thereafter a Ph. D in 1954.
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During 1954-55 he remained a member of the ‘Institute for Advanced Study’ and an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow.
He served as a research assistant at the ‘University of Illinois’ during 1955-57. There he contributed in theoretically elucidating superconductivity, which was first discovered by Dutch physicist and Nobel Laureate Heike Kamerlingh Onnes.
The BCS theory, the acronym of which was formed by combining the initial letters of surnames of its developers namely John Bardeen, Leon N. Cooper and Robert Schrieffer in that order. The most significant contribution of Cooper to the BCS theory was made in 1956, while he was still in his twenties, when he 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.
After his stint in Illinois, he moved to Ohio and worked as an assistant professor at the ‘Ohio State University’ during 1957-58.
In 1958 he was inducted as a teacher at the ‘Brown University’. His career in the university advanced steadily. In 1962 he became a Professor of the university and later ‘Henry Ledyard Goddard University Professor’ in 1966. Thereafter since 1974 he is serving the university as Thomas J. Watson, Sr. Professor of Science.
From 1959 to 1966 he remained a Research Fellow of the ‘Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’.
During 1965-66 he was a Fellow of the ‘John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation’.
The ‘Centre for Neural Science’ was established in the ‘Brown University in 1973 to investigate human brain and nervous system of animals. That year the Centre appointed Cooper as its first Director while its interdisciplinary staffs were inducted from other departments including that of Biomedical Sciences, Physics, Mathematics and Linguistics.
At present Cooper along with other Faculty members of the university, postdoctoral and graduate students is working to comprehend functions of the brain including that of memory and thereby making effort to formulate a scientific model on the way the human mind functions.
In 1975 he co-founded Nestor, Inc. and serves as its co-chairman.
He has received seven honorary doctorate degrees. He is a member of prestigious institutes like ‘American Philosophical Society’, ‘National Academy of Sciences’ and ‘American Association for the Advancement of Science’ and associate member of ‘Neuroscience Research Program’. He is also a member of the ‘Defense Science Board’ of the US Defense Department.
He is the Fellow of ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’, ‘Phi Beta Kappa’, ‘Sigma Xi’ and ‘American Physical Society’.
He is among the Board of Sponsors of the ‘Federation of American Scientists’ and also in the Executive Committee and in the Governing Board of the ‘International Neural Network Society’.
He has penned several books that include ‘An Introduction to the Meaning and Structure of Physics’ (1968), ‘The Physics and Application of Superconductivity’ along with Brian B. Schwartz (1968), ‘Introduction to Methods of Optimization’ (1970), ‘Methods and Applications of Linear Programming’ (1974), ‘Physics: Structure and Meaning’ (1992), ‘How We Learn, How We Remember’ (1995) and ‘Theory of Cortical Plasticity’ (2004).
Personal Life & Legacy
He is married and blessed with two children.
The American sitcom, ‘The Big Bang Theory’, created by Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre, featured in ‘CBS’ includes a fictional character of a theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper, played by actor Jim Parsons. The character is named partly in his honor and partly in the honor of actor-producer Sheldon Leonard.