Three Columbia Physicists Awarded Italy's Science for Peace Prize

Photograph: Wu
Photograph: Garwin
Photograph: Lee

Three well-known Columbia physics professors have received the Science for Peace Prize of the Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture in Erice, Italy.

The center announced awards for the years 1989 to 1992 and bestowed them Nov. 6 in Erice. Each prize consists of a certificate and $92,000.

The 1990 award went to Tsung-Dao Lee, University Professor; the 1991 award to Richard L. Garwin, adjunct professor of physics, and the 1992 award to Chien-Shiung Wu, Pupin Professor Emeritus of Physics. Though the center's citations do not mention particulars of their research, all three contributed to disproving conservation of parity, the notion that nature, at the molecular level, is always symmetrical with respect to right and left.

Lee was cited for "his scientific work that led to fundamental discoveries in the study of elemental particles." He first proposed that the conservation of parity might not hold in weak interactions, where a subatomic particle decays by emitting an electron. For this accomplishment, he shared the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics with his collaborator, Chen Ning Yang, now at SUNY-Stony Brook.

Lee remains an active researcher, teacher and scientific adviser. He has published more than 250 research papers, covering the spectrum of theoretical physics and including field theory, astrophysics, particle phenomenology, statistical and condensed matter physics and turbulence.

Lee was born in Shanghai and attended the National Southwest Associated University in Kunming, emigrating in 1946 to pursue physics studies at the University of Chicago, where he received the Ph.D. in physics in 1950. He joined the Columbia faculty in 1953 as an assistant professor, became associate professor in 1955, professor in 1956, Enrico Fermi Professor of Physics in 1964 and University Professor in 1983. When he was named full professor at the age of 30, he was the youngest Columbia academic to achieve that rank.

The Ettore Majorana citation for Garwin notes his "invention of new methods to insure a world equilibrium between the two superpowers." Just out of graduate school, he helped construct the first hydrogen bomb at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in 1950 and remains an expert on nuclear and other weapons.

Garwin joined the IBM Corporation in 1952 and began work that year at the Watson Scientific Computer Laboratory at Columbia, site of several breakthroughs in computer development in the 1940s and 1950s. He became an adjunct professor of physics at the same time and taught, among other physics courses, Electronics in Physical Research, a course in constructing electronic circuitry for physics experiments.

He remained at the Watson laboratory until 1970, when IBM moved the facility to its Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and was in 1965-66 director of applied research there. He retired from IBM in 1993.

Garwin was born in Cleveland and received the B.S. in physics from Case Institute of Technology in 1947 and the Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1949, at the age of 21. He has published more than 200 research papers and holds 41 U.S. patents.

Wu was cited, in part, "for her intense and vast scientific activity that has permitted the understanding of weak forces" and "for her engagement in the promotion of the role of women in science." She is best known for her 1956 experiment that disproved the conservation of parity and won the Nobel Prize the following year for the two theoretical physicists who had first doubted it, Lee and Yang.

She was born in Liu Ho, China, and came to the United States in 1936 to study at the UC-Berkeley, where she earned the Ph.D. in physics in 1940. She joined Columbia as a senior scientist in 1944 and was named associate professor in 1952, full professor in 1958 and the first Pupin Professor of Physics in 1973. That year she was also chosen the first woman to head the American Physical Society. She retired in 1980.

The Ettore Majorana Centre, founded by the Sicilian government in 1963, is known worldwide for its scholarly meetings and graduate institutes. More than 56,000 scientists from more than 100 nations have participated in the center's courses, organized into more than 100 seminars where new research problems are discussed.

Columbia University Record -- December 2, 1994 -- Vol. 20, No. 11