steven weinberg (1)

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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