R. I. P. Steven Weinberg (1933-2021)

I just heard this morning via Twitter of the death at the age of 88 of the physicist Steven Weinberg. The news media don’t seem to have caught on yet but I’ll add links to appropriate tributes when they do.

UPDATE: You will find an appreciation from UT Austin here and an Associated Press article here.

Steven Weinberg is probably most famous in physics circles for his work on electroweak unification, together with Seldon Glashow and Abdus Salam, for which he jointly won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979. He did many other things besides, of course, and his influence is felt across huge swathes of particle physics, quantum field theory and cosmology. As well as a researcher he was a prolific writer, both of technical books – his Gravitational and Cosmology is a classic text on the principles and applications of the general theory of relativity – but also of works for the general public. He was an author of rare elegance and lucidity with some wonderful turns of phrase and a beautifully articulated secular view of the human condition. For example

If there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art. And that—in a way, although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we’re starring in is one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves. That’s not an entirely despicable role for us to play.

I bought Weinberg’s popular book The First Three Minutes about 40 years ago, and I still have a copy today. It’s no exaggeration to say that this book played a major part in my decision to continue a career in theoretical physics. I know I’m not the only physicist of my generation (or others) for whom this is the case. Although I never met Steven Weinberg in person, he was definitely an inspiration and he will be greatly missed.

Rest in peace, Steven Weinberg (1933-2021).

7 Responses to “R. I. P. Steven Weinberg (1933-2021)”

  1. I met Steven on several occasions. The first through a presentation arranged by Dr. Kusch at the University of Texas at Dallas for graduate students. Later, I visited with him at several conferences also at UTD. I will miss him. I greatly enjoyed his depth of knowledge.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    A very great loss to science indeed, and a man who was on the right side in the culture wars. RIP indeed.

  3. Ilian Iliev Says:

    I knew him quite well (he was on my PhD committee in UT Austin, among many other interactions). He was an extremely impressive person all around, not just as a physicist. His approach to Cosmology when he decided to write an updated edition to his classic book was to re-derive everything from scratch, and he showed along the way that people made a few errors that everyone then took for granted.

  4. Condolence, of course (RIP), but
    Fact 1: Standard Model (SM) is incomplete
    Fact 2: No advancement on SM (theoretically) for the past 40 yrs, at a dead end
    Fact 3: HEP Standard Model based on Weinberg/Higgs theory must fall into an eternal Dead End, no escape, and the current situation is the strongest evidence.
    Fact 4: HEP Standard Model absolutely does not need a single Weinberg/Higgs idea, as SM can be derived via an entirely different idea (See Peter Woit’s saying: {If a highly complex and obscure set of ideas accurately computes the details of something you can observe, you know there is something right about it, even if you don’t understand the set of ideas. https://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=12353#comment-238968
    }

  5. He was one of the few people to work in elementary-particle physics and in astronomy. Sure, many people work on BBN, inflation, early universe, cosmic rays, and other topics which have elements of both, but his most famous particle-physics work has essentially no connection to astronomy, and he also wrote an important paper on astronomy with no connection to particle physics (at the time, one affiliation was the CfA).

    Apart from being, until recently obviously, the greatest living physicist in the eyes of some, he was also a nice chap.

  6. Steve Weinberg, Cormac, and I all have an article each in the same issue of the same journal.

    • I’m happy to read that he is also a critic of Kuhn:

      There’s a school of philosophy of science associated in particular with the name of Thomas Kuhn that sees the development of science—particularly of physics—as a series of paradigm shifts in which our point of view changes so radically that we can barely understand the theories of earlier times. I don’t believe it for a minute.

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