Two MIT physics professors, Alan Guth and Frank Wilczek, have recently won prestigious awards.
Guth, the Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics, is sharing the 2002 Dirac Medal with Andrei Linde of Stanford University and Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University for their work on the development of the concept of inflation in cosmology. The award is given by the Abdus Salam International Centre For Theoretical Physics in Italy.
The award citation read in part: "While the possibility of an exponential expansion of the early universe had been noted before, it was Guth who realized that inflation would solve some of the major problems confronting the Big Bang cosmology. Difficulties with the original inflationary model were recognized by Guth and others, and were overcome with the introduction of 'new' inflation by Linde and Steinhardt (with Albrecht). Linde went on to propose other promising versions of inflationary theory, such as chaotic inflation. The greatest success of inflationary theory has been in accounting for the existence of inhomogeneities in the universe and predicting their spectrum, done by Guth (with Pi), Steinhardt (with Bardeen and Turner), as well as Hawking and Starobinsky."
Previous award winners from MIT include Roman Jackiw (1998), the Zacharias Professor of Physics; Jeffrey Goldstone (1991), the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics; Wilczek (1994); and Dan Freedman (1993), professor of mathematics.
The medal is awarded each year on the Aug. 8 birthday of P.A.M. Dirac, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, to those who have made significant contributions to theoretical physics and mathematics.
Wilczek, the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics, will receive the 2002 Lorentz Medal from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in October. The medal has been awarded every four years since 1927 to researchers who have attained outstanding achievements in the field of physics.
"Professor Wilczek is one of the most influential theoretical physicists of his generation," the academy noted. "He was an instrumental figure in the discovery of the phenomenon known as 'asymptotic freedom.' This is a phenomenon whereby the building blocks which make up the nucleus of an atom - quarks - behave as free particles when they are close together, but become more strongly attracted to each other as the distance between them increases. This theory forms the key to the interpretation of almost all experimental studies involving modern particle accelerators.
"In the view of the Academy, Wilczek's work is characterized by both its breadth and its depth. For example, his research on particles which can only move in a two-dimensional plane was of great importance in the understanding of two-dimensional electron gases in semiconductors."
Wilczek will receive the award at a symposium, at which he will give an invited talk on the "Evolution of the Concept of Particle and the Origin of Mass."
Earlier this year, Wilczek, who has been at MIT since 2000, received the $10,000 Michelson-Morley Prize from Case Western Reserve University. That award recognizes "distinguished scientific achievement and contributions to the advancement of knowledge and the improvement of human welfare."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 11, 2002.