Childhood & Early Life
Samuel Chao Chung Ting was born on January 27, 1936, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States. His father, Kuan-hai Ting, was a professor of engineering and his mother, Tsun-ying Jeanne Wang was a professor of psychology. He was the eldest of their three children.
Originally from Rizhao Country, Shandong province, China, his parents met and married as graduate students at the University of Michigan. They were settled in Rizhao but months before Samuel’s birth, they came to the United States on a short visit, hoping to get back to China before their son was born.
However, Samuel was born before time and since his parents were still at Michigan he became an American citizen by birth. Two months later, the family returned to China, where he was mostly raised by his maternal grandmother, who had singlehandedly raised his mother.
Very soon, China was invaded by Japan and the situation became so volatile that Samuel had to be educated at home. Later, as the Chinese Civil war set in, the situation turned worse and the family fled to Taiwan, where in 1948, Samuel was sent to a school for the first time.
After graduating from school, Samuel first entered National Cheng Kung University but after one year, decided to go to the United States of America for higher education. Accordingly, on 6 September 1956, he landed at Detroit with just $100 in hand.
Subsequently, he enrolled at the University of Michigan with full scholarship. In 1959, he earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics. Later in 1960, he earned MS degree with physics and then working under L.W. Jones and M.L. Perl, he earned his PhD in 1962 from the same university.
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In 1963, shortly after receiving his PhD, Samuel C. C. Ting received a Ford Foundation fellowship and with that he joined European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) at Geneva, Switzerland. There he worked with Giuseppe Cocconi at the Proton Synchrotron, a key component in CERN’s accelerator complex.
At the Synchrotron, protons from the Proton Synchrotron Booster or heavy ions from the Low Energy Ion Ring were accelerated. Working under Cocconi, he was able to get a more in-depth knowledge about the subject.
In the spring of 1965, he returned to the U.S.A and joined the Columbia University, New York as an instructor in Physics. Here he came in close contact with eminent scientists like L. Lederman, T.D. Lee, I.I. Rabi, M. Schwarts, J. Steinberger, C.S. Wu etc and greatly benefited from such associations.
In the following year, an experiment on electron-positron pair production by photon collision with a nuclear target was carried on at the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, Harvard University. It occurred to Ting that the result of the experiment violated the accepted theories of quantum electrodynamics. Therefore, he began studying it in detail.
Subsequently, he wrote to G. Weber and W. Jentschke of the Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron (DESY), proposing to undertake a pair production experiment there. Once his proposal was accepted, he took leave from Columbia University and set out for Hamburg in March 1966.
At Hamburg, Ting organized his own group and began working on the pair production experiment. He first constructed a double-arm spectrometer and using it, Ting was able to study the physics of electron pairs, particularly the way such pairs are created during the decay of photon-like particles.
In 1967, he went back to the U.S.A. and joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as Assistant Professor of Physics. Two years later, in 1969, he was promoted to the post of full professor.
In 1971, he brought his team to America and continued the experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Long Island, New York. Here, he designed a more advanced version of double-arm spectrometer, capable of using higher energy proton beam.
Finally in August 1974, they found the evidence of a new kind of heavy particle and called it ‘J’ particle. Two years later, he jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work.
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In 1977, Ting was appointed the first Thomas Dudley Cabot Institute Professor of Physics at MIT. He now continued his search for new subatomic particles and began to get better scope for involving himself in large-scale, expensive experiments, both in the U.S.A and abroad.
In 1995, he proposed that a space-borne cosmic-ray detector, later called Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, be mounted on the International Space Station. The proposal was not only accepted, but he was also selected as the principal investigator.
The project was $1.5 billion undertaking and involved 500 scientists from 56 institutions and 16 countries. In 1998, they flew and tested a prototype on Space Shuttle mission STS-91. It was christened AMS-01.
Finally, on May 16 2001, AMS-02 was successfully launched on Shuttle mission STS-134. It was installed on the International Space Station on 19 May 2011. In this mission, Ting was not only in charge of fabricating this sensitive detector module, but has been directing it since then.
Ting is best known for the discovery of ‘J’ particle. In August 1974, while working in the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Ting and his team members obtained an unusual reading, which diverged from the then-current atomic theory. He believed that it indicated presence of an unknown high mass particle.
He then sent the data to his colleague, Giorgio Bellettini, who was also director of Italy's Frascati Laboratory. He confirmed that Ting had discovered a new elementary particle, which was three times heavier than a proton and had a narrow range of energy states, a longer life span than anything known in physics.
In November, they jointly presented their findings in Physical Review Letters. Since the work involved electromagnetic currents bearing the symbol ‘j’, they called it ‘j-particle’. Soon after this, they were notified that Stanford University physicist Burton Richter had also proved the existence of a new particle; but he had named it the ‘psi particle’.
Subsequently, Ting and Richter compared their results and realized that they had independently discovered the same particle. Now, the particle is referred as the j/psi particle. The experiment proved the existence of a fourth fundamental subatomic particle called ‘charm’.