Steven Weinberg is a theoretical physicist who along with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow won the Nobel Prize in physics "for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current". In addition to the Nobel Prize, he is also the winner of several other prestigious awards for his work in the field of elementary particles and cosmology. A prolific writer, he has written a number of articles on a variety of subjects and is a frequent contributor to ‘The New York Review of Books’ and other periodicals. As a young boy he developed a deep interest in all matters of scientific enquiry and was enthusiastically encouraged by his father to pursue his passion. By the time he was 16 he had realized that theoretical physics was the field that fascinated him the most. It is a coincidence that he went to the same high school and was in the same class as Sheldon Glashow with whom he would share a Nobel Prize years later. As on today he is considered to be among the top scientists in the world. He has been the President of the Philosophical Society of Texas and served as consultant at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born to Frederick and Eva Weinberg in New York City. He was inclined towards science from an early age.
He attended Bronx High School of Science from where he graduated in 1950. Another future physicist, Sheldon Glashow was a classmate there.
He received his undergraduate degree from Cornell in 1954 and went to the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen for his graduate studies. During this time he began his research with the help of David Frisch and Gunnar Kallen.
He returned to the U.S. and worked on his doctoral thesis under Sam Treiman at Princeton University, earning his Ph.D. in 1957.
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He worked as a post-doctoral researcher at Columbia University from 1957 to 1959. From 1959 to 1966 he worked at Berkeley. He conducted research on a wide variety of topics—weak interaction currents, quantum field theory, symmetry breaking, scattering theory, etc.
His interest in the field of astrophysics began to develop during 1961-62. He published some papers on neutrinos and began working on his book, ‘Gravitation and Cosmology’. By 1965 he had started his work on current algebra and the concept of spontaneous symmetry breaking.
He took leave from Berkeley in 1966 to become Loeb Lecturer at Harvard, a post he held till 1969. He also served as a visiting professor at M.I.T.
He was working on broken symmetries, current algebra and renormalization theory while he was a visiting professor to M.I.T. He was appointed a professor in the Physics Department at M.I.T. in 1969; the department was chaired by Viki Weisskopf.
He accepted the position of Higgins Professor of Physics in 1973 at Harvard University. At the same time he was offered the post of Senior Scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
Over the 1970s, he focused on unified theory of weak and electromagnetic interactions. He also developed the theory of strong interactions known as quantum chromodynamics.
He published the book ‘The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe’ in 1977. He attempted to explain how the universe evolved in its early stages after the Big Bang.
His research on the renormalization aspect of quantum field theory which he undertook in 1979 was of much significance to the area of theoretical physics. His approach led to the development of effective theory of quantum gravity, heavy quark effective field theory and low energy QCD.
He was appointed as the Jack S. Josey-Welch Foundation Regents Chair in Science at the University of Texas at Austin in 1982. There he founded the Theory Group of the Physics Department.
He gave a talk in April 1999 at the Conference on Cosmic Design of the American Association for the advancement of Science refuting the attacks on the theories of evolution and cosmology. The article ‘A Designer Universe?’ was based on this talk.
He is a prominent public spokesperson for science who frequently contributes articles to the ‘New York Review of Books’. He has authored several books on science which combine the scientific elements with components of history, philosophy and atheism.
He is best known for his work on the unification of the weak force and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles. His contribution to the study of particle physics, quantum field theory, gravity, superstrings and cosmology has also been immense.
Awards & Achievements
In 1979, he, along with Sheldon Glashow and Abdus Salam, was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on electroweak unification based on spontaneous symmetry breaking.
He was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences by the American Philosophical Society in 2004 with the citation that he is "considered by many to be the preeminent theoretical physicist alive in the world today."
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Louise in 1954. His wife is a professor of law. The couple has one daughter.