nobel prize (6)

The Last Three Minutes...

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My autographed copy from Dr. Weinberg.

 

Topics: History, Nobel Laureate, Nobel Prize, Steven Weinberg

 

AUSTIN, Texas — Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, a professor of physics and astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin, has died. He was 88.

 

One of the most celebrated scientists of his generation, Weinberg was best known for helping to develop a critical part of the Standard Model of particle physics, which significantly advanced humanity’s understanding of how everything in the universe — its various particles and the forces that govern them — relate. A faculty member for nearly four decades at UT Austin, he was a beloved teacher and researcher, revered not only by the scientists who marveled at his concise and elegant theories but also by science enthusiasts everywhere who read his books and sought him out at public appearances and lectures.

 

“The passing of Steven Weinberg is a loss for The University of Texas and for society. Professor Weinberg unlocked the mysteries of the universe for millions of people, enriching humanity’s concept of nature and our relationship to the world,” said Jay Hartzell, president of The University of Texas at Austin. “From his students to science enthusiasts, from astrophysicists to public decision-makers, he made an enormous difference in our understanding. In short, he changed the world.”

 

UT Austin Mourns Death of World-Renowned Physicist Steven Weinberg, UT News

 

I'm sure the University of Texas, the New York Times, US News & World Report among many others will do more justice than a blog post from a doctoral student in Nanoengineering.

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Photo at a banquet for the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), and National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP) joint meeting, September 22, 2011, University of Texas, Austin.

 

His passing made me take stock of the popular books by physicists in my library (a short list): "The Collapsing Universe" (Asimov); "Ideas, and Opinions," "Relativity: The Special, and the General Theory" (Einstein); "Surely, You're Joking Mr. Feynman," "Six Easy Pieces," "QED: The Strange Theory of Light, and Matter," (Feynman); "Gravity" (Hartle); "Stephen Hawking's Universe," "A Brief History of Time," "The Universe in a Nutshell," (Hawking), "The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?" (Lederman); Warped Passages: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions" (Randall); "The Black Hole Wars: My Battle With Stephen Hawking To Make The World Safe for Quantum Mechanics" (Susskind); "Black Holes, & Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy" (Thorne), following in alphabetical order by author, lastly Professor Steven Weinberg. Some of my humble ruminations of him:

 

The above is from a Joint Conference between the National Society of Black Physicists and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists in Austin, Texas on September 22, 2011. The photo above as I recall is from the now-defunct Blackberry mobile phone, so please forgive the image quality and pixel density. In my mind, a parallel remembered photo: Einstein lecturing African American physics students at Lincoln University. I cannot say he was going for a double entendre. I remember in the parking lot before I left, holding tightly the steering wheel of the rental, feeling goosebumps, and catching my breath.

 

I met Dr. Weinberg and thanked him for signing my only copy of "The First Three Minutes" when I was a graduate student in Astrophysics at the University of Texas (I have a hardcover copy; the most recent prints are paperback or Kindle). I was quite astonished that he remembered me. I filed my request sheepishly through his Administrative Assistant, but he did remember my request, and me specifically.

 

These were my first thoughts when a friend posted the UT News article on Facebook. Her husband had been a student of Dr. Weinberg, and a physics colleague for almost four decades. I called him to give my personal condolences. We both agreed it was the passing of an age that may never be repeated again. With each passing day, each quote by Dr. Carl Sagan in "A Demon-Haunted World" is becoming prophesy.

 

Though my friend is an accomplished scientist himself, he always felt intimidated by his mentor's presence. He and Professor Weinberg tentatively made a date to resume their lunch meetings, subsumed by the pandemic, until life or the cessation of life inevitably happens. The body wears out, and Entropy eventually has the last say. In the end, our positive impact is our epitaph, it is how we will be remembered.

 

*****

 

It is the loss of a giant in an age ruled by madness. I got to shake hands with Professor Steven Weinberg at the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists (NSHP) when they held a joint meeting in Austin, Texas, September 22, 2011.

 

I have both “The First Three Minutes” (he graciously autographed), and “To Explain the World.”

 

His passing should make us all more determined to do just that in a world now ruled by gaslighting, and in the words of Carl Sagan, “thirty-second sound bites” (if they’re even that long). We should shine his passion for scientific inquiry as lights in “this present darkness.”

 

I think he’d want us to remember him that way.

 

At least that’s how I’m consoling myself through the tears.

 

 

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Women's History Month, and CRISPR...

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Topics: Biology, Chemistry, DNA, Nobel Prize, Research, Women in Science

This year’s (2020) Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to two scientists who transformed an obscure bacterial immune mechanism, commonly called CRISPR, into a tool that can simply and cheaply edit the genomes of everything from wheat to mosquitoes to humans. 

The award went jointly to Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens and Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, “for the development of a method for genome editing.” They first showed that CRISPR—which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—could edit DNA in an in vitro system in a paper published in the 28 June 2012 issue of Science. Their discovery was rapidly expanded on by many others and soon made CRISPR a common tool in labs around the world. The genome editor spawned industries working on making new medicines, agricultural products, and ways to control pests.

Many scientists anticipated that Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute, who showed 6 months later that CRISPR worked in mammalian cells, would share the prize. The institutions of the three scientists are locked in a fierce patent battle over who deserves the intellectual property rights to CRISPR’s discovery, which some estimate could be worth billions of dollars.

“The ability to cut DNA where you want has revolutionized the life sciences. The genetic scissors were discovered 8 years ago, but have already benefited humankind greatly,” Pernilla Wittung Stafshede, a chemical biologist at the Chalmers University of Technology, said at the prize briefing.

CRISPR was also used in one of the most controversial biomedical experiments of the past decade, when a Chinese scientist edited the genomes of human embryos, resulting in the birth of three babies with altered genes. He was widely condemned and eventually sentenced to jail in China, a country that has become a leader in other areas of CRISPR research.

Although scientists were not surprised Doudna and Charpentier won the prize, Charpentier was stunned. “As much as I have been awarded a number of prizes, it’s something you hear, but you don’t completely connect,” she said in a phone call with the Nobel Prize officials. “I was told a number of times that when it happens, you’re very surprised and feel that it’s not real.”

At a press briefing today, Doudna noted she was asleep and missed the initial calls from Sweden, only waking up to answer the phone finally when a Nature reporter called. "She wanted to know if I could comment on the Nobel and I said, Well, who won it? And she was shocked that she was the person to tell me."

CRISPR, the revolutionary genetic ‘scissors,’ honored by Chemistry Nobel, Jon Cohen, Science Magazine, AAAS

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Nobel Prize in Economics...

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Nobel Prize, Economics.

Topics: Economics, Nobel Laureate, Nobel Prize

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2020 was awarded jointly to Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson "for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats."

 The Prize in Economic Sciences 2020. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Mon. 12 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economic-sciences/2020/summary/>

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Nobel Prize in Literature...

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Nobel Prize, Literature.

Topics: Literature, Nobel Laureate, Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2020 was awarded to Louise Glück "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal."

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2020. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Thu. 8 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2020/summary/>

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Nobel Prize in Chemistry...

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Topics: Chemistry, Nobel Laureate, Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 was awarded jointly to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna "for the development of a method for genome editing."

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Wed. 7 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/2020/summary/>

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Nobel Prize in Physics...

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Nobel Prize in Physics, 2020

Topics: Nobel Laureate, Nobel Prize, Physics

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 was divided, one half awarded to Roger Penrose “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity”, the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.”

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2020. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Tue. 6 Oct 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2020/summary/>

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