A Science Odyssey
People and Discoveries

Steven Weinberg
1933 -

Photo by Mitchel Valentine, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives

Steven Weinberg grew up in New York City, where his father worked as a court stenographer. His early interest in science was encouraged by his family and by his teachers at the Bronx High School of Science. One of his classmates there was Sheldon Glashow; about 25 years later they would share the Nobel Prize in physics.

By age 16, theoretical physics had grabbed Weinberg. He went to Cornell University (as did Glashow!), studied at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, and got his PhD from Princeton. He embarked on a career of research and teaching that took him to some of the best centers for physics research in the country: Columbia, Berkeley, MIT, and Harvard. He is now a professor in the physics and astronomy departments at the University of Texas at Austin. His scientific interests were always broad, but his most noted work has been in unified field theory. Four forces were believed to drive the laws of physics: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force (which holds an atom's nucleus together), and the weak force (which breaks an atom apart, as in radioactivity). Around 1967, Weinberg theorized that the electromagnetic and the weak forces are the same at extremely high energy levels. This electroweak theory was confirmed by particle accelerator experiments in 1973. This was one giant step closer to physicists' long-dreamed of goal of finding a single elegant equation to explain all the matter and forces in nature. Weinberg and others who worked on this theory, Sheldon Glashow and Abdus Salam, were awared the Nobel Prize in 1979.

"The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy."

[From The First Three Minutes]

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