Archive for Electroweak Unification

R. I. P. Steven Weinberg (1933-2021)

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on July 24, 2021 by telescoper

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).