Sunday, January 10, 2021

Death of Nobel Physics Awardee (1988) Jack Steinberger (Muon Neutrinos)

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science,Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Jack Steinberger is a Nobel awardee of whom I'd never heard (shared the Nobel for discovering muon neutrinos with Leon Lederman and Melvin Schwartz, 1988). He died recently at age 99. He was an experimental physicist.

The obituary published in Nature (22 December 2020) provides information about his rich life, his important contributions and a little bit about neutrinos (millions of which are passing through Earth and you and me right now without us knowing it).

I was struck by his attitude toward prizes in general. "Uninterested in prizes, he often reiterated his belief that 'the pretension that some of us are better than others [is not] a good thing'. He felt he been dealt lucky cards in his life, and expressed his deep gratitude to the Chicago family who gave him opportunities as a child. In his words: 'You have only one life: whatever crops up, crops up.'” (my emphasis)

The novelist, poet, art and literary critic John Updike wrote a poem about the ghost-like properties of neutrinos which has been widely published, including this entry in Symmetry in 2011. The poem is unusual because it is about a physics phenomenon. Below the poem is a line-by-line explanation but remember quite a bit has been learned about neutrinos since. At the time he wrote it (1960) the muon neutrino had not been found.

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