Guth Is Appointed Weisskopf Professor


A professorship honoring the renowned physicist Victor F. Weisskopf for his scientific accomplishments, his unique role as an international spokesman for science, and his ability to interpret complex subjects for laypeople has been established in the Department of Physics.

Alan H. Guth, the cosmologist and particle physicist widely known for developing the "inflationary theory" of the origin of the universe, and for making his ideas understandable to nonscientists, has been named the first to hold the Victor Weisskopf Professorship in Physics.

Both announcements were made by Professor Ernest Moniz, head of the Department of Physics.

"Professor Weisskopf's contributions to quantum electrodynamics and nuclear and particle physics have been hailed by colleagues throughout the world," Professor Moniz said. "No less significant and valuable are the humanistic interests he has brought to bear on a broad range of issues in science and society as an articulate and effective statesman of science.

"As director general of the 14-nation European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), he played a crucial role in promoting international cooperation in scientific research and in building what has become a preeminent particle physics accelerator laboratory in the world.

"He was a founding member of both the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the Federation of American Scientists, two institutions which have been broadly influential in promoting arms control and disarmament. In a variety of positions, ranging from president of the American Physical Society and chairman of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel to serving as president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and as a member of the Pontifical Academy, he has played a unique role as an international spokesman for science and its role in society," Professor Moniz said.

Professor Weisskopf, 83, was born in Vienna and came to the United States in 1937 to teach at the University of Rochester. In 1943 he joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atomic bomb was developed. He has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1945.

He was given the rank of Institute Professor in 1966. MIT bestows the honor sparingly in recognition of faculty members of great distinction. In 1967 he was named head of the Department of Physics and held that post until his retirement in 1973.

Professor Guth's work, which applies ideas from elementary particle physics to the understanding of the cosmos, has revolutionized cosmology. His theory of inflationary cosmology has become a widely accepted explanation of the early universe and provides a new framework for understanding the origin and evolution of the universe.

The concept of an inflationary universe offers an explanation of why the mass density of the universe is close to the critical value-the value that would just barely be sufficient to eventually halt the expansion of the universe. It also provides an explanation of why the cosmic background radiation, an afterglow from the Big Bang, has an intensity which is very nearly the same in all directions.

Among Professor Guth's many awards is one of the the two Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prizes for 1992 given by the American Physical Society in November. The prize recognizes an outstanding contribution to physics and is awarded to persons who also have exceptional skills in lecturing to diverse audiences.

The citation to Professor Guth read: "For his concept of the inflationary universe which has revolutionized the way in which cosmologists think about the earliest moments of the universe. The clarity of his presentations, both written and spoken, have made his important ideas accessible to expert and layman alike."

Professor Guth, 44, a member of the Center for Theoretical Physics at MIT, received the SB and SM (1969) and the PhD (1972), all in physics, from MIT. He joined the MIT faculty in 1980 after holding teaching and research positions at Princeton, Columbia, Cornell and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

A version of this
article appeared in the
January 29, 1992

issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume
36, Number
18).


Topics: Physics

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