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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, October 24, 2011

Nobel Prize-winning physicist to present 21st Konopinski Memorial Lecture

Oct. 24, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Nobel Prize-winning Dutch theoretical physicist Gerard 't Hooft will present the 21st Joseph and Sophia Konopinski Memorial Lecture in Physics at Indiana University Bloomington next Tuesday, Nov. 1. 't Hooft is a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Gerard Hooft

Nobel Prize-winning Dutch physicist Gerard 't Hooft will give a public lecture Nov. 1 at IU Bloomington.

Professor 't Hooft's achievements related to the quantum structure of electroweak interactions and in discovering crucial properties of the strong interactions have played a key role in motivating work performed in particle physics experiments in the Department of Physics at Indiana University, according to IU theoretical physicist Alan Kostelecky.

"He's a remarkable scientist and one of only a handful of individuals who have achieved multiple breakthroughs at the frontier of theoretical physics," Kostelecky said. "In addition to his prize-winning work and his discoveries on the strong interactions, he has also made key contributions in several other areas, including finding magnetic monopole solutions in theories with Higgs bosons and, more recently, proposing the so-called "holographic principle" now being widely investigated in string theories and elsewhere."

Working in the early 1970s with his thesis advisor, Martinus Veltman, as a 25-year-old graduate student, 't Hooft convincingly showed that the electroweak theory makes sense and that calculations can be performed reliably with it. This breakthrough created intense excitement and stimulated research on the electroweak theory that continues to this day.

Unification has played a dominant role in the history of physics since Sir Isaac Newton showed in the 17th century that the phenomenon of gravity, which causes an apple to fall from a tree, also makes the moon orbit the earth. In the 19th century James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that electricity and magnetism were manifestations of the same phenomenon, and in the middle of the 20th century Richard Feynman and others showed that Maxwell's theory could be unified with quantum mechanics. The common thread in these examples of unification was to describe the way the objects in our universe interact with each other in a detailed and quantitative way.

In the latter half of the 20th century, physicists were trying to extend these ideas to the more obscure forces that describe the smallest of subatomic particles, and a theory to unify electromagnetism with the so-called "weak" interactions was proposed and developed in the 1960s by Sheldon Glashow, Steven Weinberg, and Abdus Salam. But physicists did not know how to calculate the implications of this "electroweak" theory to see if it was correct.

While it was the work by 't Hooft and Veltman proving that reliable calculations could be made using the electroweak theory that earned them the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physics, 't Hooft at the time had already been recognized with the Wolf Prize in 1981, an award considered the most prestigious prize in physics after the Nobel. In 1986 he received the Lorentz Medal, announced every four years in recognition of the most important contributions in theoretical physics, and in 1995 he was one of the first recipients of the Spinozapremie, the highest award available to scientists in the Netherlands.

The combination of electroweak theory and the quantum description of the strong force is called the Standard Model. Nowhere is the Standard Model being tested more directly than at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), where IU physicists have been involved in the ATLAS experiment that is searching for new discoveries in the head-on collisions of protons of extraordinarily high energy.

A team of IU physicists spent 14 years of design and construction at IU, testing and commissioning a key component, the Transition Radiation Tracker, of the ATLAS detector.

"Faculty, postdoc research associates, graduate, and undergraduate students as part of the IU team are already examining the huge data-set leading to published results, including both Standard Model measurements and searches for new particles such as the Higgs boson," Kostelecky said. "The field associated with this predicted particle acts as a kind of invisible fluid that fills the universe and interactions of fundamental particles with this fluid imbue them with mass. Without 't Hooft's contributions ensuring the reliability of calculations within and predictions of the Standard Model, predictions of new effects and precision tests would be impossible."

Professor 't Hooft's Konopinski Memorial Lecture, titled "From the Standard Model to Quantum Gravity," will begin at 7:30, Tuesday, Nov. 1, in Woodburn Hall 100. The lecture is open to the public and will be followed by an open reception at the University Club, Indiana Memorial Union.

The Konopinski Lecture Series was endowed in 1990 by a bequest from the late IU physics professor Emil Konopinski, in honor of his parents, Joseph and Sophia Konopinski. Emil Konopinski was a physics professor emeritus at IU who worked with Enrico Fermi on the construction of the first nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago, then went to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in World War II with J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller to begin research on the first atomic bomb. He died in 1990 at the age of 78.

For more information contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or