Steven Weinberg and the Great Unifying Theory

Steven Weinberg

On May 3, 1933, American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg was born. His research on elementary particles and cosmology has been honored with numerous prizes and awards including the Nobel Prize in Physics, which he received in 1979 together with his colleagues Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow for the unification of the weak force and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particle.

Steven Weinberg was born on May 3, 1933, in New York City to Jewish immigrants Frederick and Eva Weinberg. He graduated from Bronx High School of Science in 1950 in the same graduating class as Sheldon Glashow, whose own research, independent of Weinberg’s, would result in them (and Abdus Salam) sharing the same 1979 Nobel in Physics. In 1954 Weinberg received his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and went to the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen where he started his graduate studies and research. After one year, Weinberg returned to Princeton University where he earned his Ph.D. degree in Physics in 1957.

From 1957 to 1959 Weinberg worked as a post-doctoral researcher at Columbia University  and University of California, Berkeley, and in 1960 he was promoted to faculty at Berkeley, where he stayed until 1966. His main topic of research was particle physics, such as the high energy behavior of quantum field theory, symmetry breaking, pion scattering, infrared photons and quantum gravity. It was also during this time that he developed the approach to quantum field theory that is described in the first chapters of his book The Quantum Theory of Fields and started to write his textbook Gravitation and Cosmology. Both textbooks, perhaps especially the second, are among the most influential texts in the scientific community in their subjects.

In 1966, he accepted a lecturer position at Harvard and In 1967 he became a visiting professor at MIT. It was in that year at MIT that Weinberg proposed his model of unification of electromagnetism and of nuclear weak forces with the masses of the force-carriers of the weak part of the interaction being explained by spontaneous symmetry breaking. One of its fundamental aspects was the prediction of the existence of the Higgs boson, also often referred to as ‘God particle’.  The 1973 experimental discovery of weak neutral currents was one verification of the electroweak unification. The paper by Weinberg in which he presented this theory was one of the most cited theoretical works ever in high energy physics.

Steven Weinberg continued his work in many aspects of particle physics, quantum field theory, gravity, supersymmetry, superstrings and cosmology, as well as a theory dubbed “Technicolor” by Leonard Susskind. In the following years, the full Standard Model of elementary particle theory was developed through the work of many contributors. In 1973 Weinberg proposed a modification of the Standard Model which did not contain that model’s fundamental Higgs boson.

In 1979,  following the experimental discovery of the theory’s predicted amount of parity violation due to Z bosons’ mixing with electromagnetic interactions, Weinberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, together with Sheldon Glashow, and Abdus Salam who had independently proposed a theory of electroweak unification based on spontaneous symmetry breaking.

At yovisto you can learn more about the Great Unifying Theory and current research in the talk of Prof. Garret Lisi on a controversial new model of the universe that — just maybe — answers all the big questions.

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