Nobel Laureate Named I. I. Rabi Prof. of Physics

Photograph: Melvin Schwartz, Photo credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Melvin Schwartz, a Columbia alumnus and a faculty member, has been named I.I. Rabi Professor of Physics.

His appointment was made by the University Trustees and announced by President Rupp.

Schwartz, professor of physics at Columbia since 1991, shared the Nobel Prize in 1988 with Columbia professors Leon Lederman and Jack Steinberger for their discovery of the muon neutrino.

The I.I. Rabi Professorship was established in 1985 as a tribute to the eminent Nobel Prize winner who guided Columbia's Department of Physics for more than three decades. Rabi died in 1988.

Schwartz teaches the Undergraduate Seminar in contemporary physics and astronomy and has provided students with an introduction to some of the most exciting developments in 20th-century physics: relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particle theory and cosmology. His research focuses on high energy experimental particle physics with particular emphasis on weak interactions.

He received the A.B. degree in 1953 and the Ph.D. in 1958 from Columbia. After working at Brookhaven National Laboratory as a research scientist from 1956 to 1958, he joined the faculty of Columbia in 1958 as assistant professor of physics and was appointed full professor in 1963. He resigned in 1966 to accept an appointment as professor of physics at Stanford.

In 1983, he left Stanford to devote full time to a company he had founded in 1970, Digital Pathways Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., which develops data communications security and network management. He left the company in 1991 to return to Columbia as professor of physics.

At the same time, he returned to Brookhaven as associate director for high energy and nuclear physics and supervised experiments in which gold atoms are accelerated to the velocity of light and stripped of all electrons. The nuclei are then collided to create quark-gluon plasmas, tiny areas of intense heat that may replicate the conditions under which the universe began.

"It's a totally new frontier," Schwartz said of the experiments. He left the Brookhaven post this year to devote his attention to teaching.

The 1962 experiment for which Schwartz, Lederman and Steinberger received the Nobel Prize also took place at Brookhaven. They removed two great obstacles to progress in research into the "weak" force, one of nature's four basic forces.

First, they created the first method to study weak forces at high energies--a high-intensity beam of neutrinos.

Second, in experiments with the beam, they discovered that at least two different kinds of neutrinos exist. The view, now accepted, that elementary particles are grouped in pairs has its roots in that discovery, according to the Nobel announcement by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The work "opened entirely new opportunities for research into the innermost structure and dynamics of matter," the Academy said.

He is the author of Principles of Electrodynamics, a classic textbook first published in 1972 that has been an important influence on physics majors. The book's innovative pedagogy emphasizes the aesthetically pleasing unity of the theory of electromagnetism and provides students with a framework for understanding other areas of physics. He has also published more than 40 articles on topics in high energy physics.

He was a National Science Foundation Fellow, 1953-54 and 1955-56, Quincy Ward Boese Fellow, 1954-55, Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, 1959-63, and a Guggenheim Fellow, 1966-67.

He received the American Physical Society's Hughes Prize in 1964 and became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1975.

Columbia University Record -- September 23, 1994 -- Vol. 20, No. 3