Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg dies at 88

Jewish professor was recognized in 1979 with work on mysteries of tiny particles and their electromagnetic interaction that built on Einstein’s theory of relativity

Professor Steven Weinberg, then of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 15, 1979. (AP Photo/File)
Professor Steven Weinberg, then of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 15, 1979. (AP Photo/File)

Physicist Steven Weinberg, who won the Nobel prize in 1979 with two other scientists for their separate contributions unlocking mysteries of tiny particles and their electromagnetic interaction, has died at 88, the University of Texas at Austin said Saturday.

A professor at the university since the 1980s, Weinberg died Friday in Austin, Texas, according to his wife Louise, said UT spokesperson Christine Sinatra. The physicist had been hospitalized for several weeks, but a cause of death was not released, according to Sinatra.

“The passing of Steven Weinberg is a loss for The University of Texas and for society,” UT President Jay Hartzell said in a statement.

“Professor Weinberg unlocked the mysteries of the universe for millions of people, enriching humanity’s concept of nature and our relationship to the world,” Hartzell added.

In 1979, Weinberg shared the Nobel prize in physics with scientists Abdus Salam and Sheldon Lee Glashow. Their work improved the understanding of how everything in the universe relates, according to a UT statement.

The work helped physicists unify two of the four forces of nature, subatomic forces known as nuclear forces, said Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology.

“It’s all about understanding the laws of nature at a deep level. We’re curious creatures and we want to know how the universe around us works,” Carroll said.

Harvard professors Sheldon Glashow, left, and Steven Weinberg talk with reporters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 15, 1979, after learning that they won the Nobel prize for physics for their work in electromagnetic studies. (AP Photo)

Weinberg’s work built on the work of Albert Einstein, according to Columbia University string theory physicist Brian Greene.

“The idea was that all forces of nature might actually be the same force… it was this dream Einstein had, that it all might be whole,” Greene said. “He drove this idea forward. He pushed this idea forward by showing [two forces] were the same force.”

Weinberg, Salam and Glashow — working separately — were honored “for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including… the prediction of the weak neutral current,” according to the Nobel Prize website.

A New York native born to Jewish immigrants, Weinberg was a researcher at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, earlier in his career. He then served on the faculty of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the UT faculty in 1982, teaching both physics and astronomy.

In 2007, he canceled a planned visit to a London university because of what he described as “a widespread anti-Israel and anti-Semitic current in British opinion.” A year earlier, he called off a trip to a conference at the University of Durham, following the boycott of Israeli academics by the lecturers union.

Weinberg is survived by his wife and a daughter.

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