SMU-trained physicist who bolstered Big Bang theory dies at 84

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: August 31, 2016

James Cronin, a Southern Methodist University graduate who shared a Nobel Prize for explaining why the universe survived the Big Bang, died last Thursday in St. Paul, Minn. He was 84.

His death was confirmed by the University of Chicago, where he was a professor emeritus. No cause was given.

In 1964, Cronin and Val Fitch of Princeton University were conducting experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island involving matter and antimatter: particles that have the same mass but hold opposite (though equal) charges, either positive or negative, compelling them to destroy each other on contact.

The researchers found that for all their similarities, the particles obeyed slightly different laws of physics: that there was, as Cronin put it, “a fundamental asymmetry between matter and antimatter.”

This contradicted a bedrock scientific principle known as charge-parity invariance, which had assumed that the same laws of physics would apply if the charges of particles were reversed from positive to negative or vice versa.

The finding, known as the Fitch-Cronin effect, bolstered the Big Bang theory, mainly by explaining why the matter and antimatter produced by the explosion did not annihilate each other, leaving nothing but light instead of a residue that evolved into stars, planets and people.

“We now believe this tiny difference led to us,” Michael S. Turner, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, said last year after Fitch died at 91.

James Watson Cronin was born in Chicago on Sept. 29, 1931. His father, also named James, met Cronin’s mother, the former Dorothy Watson, in a Greek class at Northwestern University. The elder James Cronin became a professor of Latin and Greek at SMU.

Cronin’s infatuation with physics began in high school. He graduated in 1951 from SMU, where he majored in physics and mathematics. He received a doctoral degree from the University of Chicago, where he studied under Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller and Murray Gell-Mann. His thesis was on experimental nuclear physics.

Cronin’s first wife, the former Annette Martin, died in 2005. He is survived by their children, Emily Grothe and Daniel Cronin; his second wife, the former Carol Champlin McDonald; and six grandchildren.

After collaborating with Cronin at Brookhaven, Fitch, the son of a Nebraska rancher, recruited him to Princeton. Cronin was lured back to the University of Chicago in 1971, attracted in part by one of the world’s most powerful particle accelerators, which was being built at what is now known as the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, operated by the university in partnership with a consortium of other educational institutions. He was offered a post teaching physics, astronomy and astrophysics.

Cronin and Fitch were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1980. But Cronin acknowledged that they had not completely solved a riddle of the universe.

“We know that improvements in detector technology and quality of accelerators will permit even more sensitive experiments in the coming decades,” he said at the time. “We are hopeful, then, that at some epoch, perhaps distant, this cryptic message from nature will be deciphered.”

Working with Fitch and using instruments they had devised, Cronin conducted his groundbreaking experiments when he was in his early 30s, less than a decade after he had received his doctorate. Why did it take the Nobel Committee 16 years to recognize their achievement?

“I don’t think that people recognized that this had something to do with one of the most fundamental aspects of nature, with the origin of the universe,” Cronin said in the 2006 book Candid Science VI: More Conversations With Famous Scientists, by Istvan Hargittai and Magdolna Hargittai. “I think that it took a while to realize this.”

He added: “For me, this was actually a good thing. I was much too young at that time to deal with such a thing as the Nobel Prize.” READ MORE

James Cronin, Nobel laureate who overturned long-accepted beliefs about the fundamental symmetry of laws of physics , dies at 84

Washington Post

Originally Posted: August 28, 2016

James W. Cronin, who shared the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering a startling breakdown in what was assumed to be the immutable symmetry of physical law, thereby helping to explain the behavior and evolution of the universe as a whole, died Aug. 25 in St. Paul, Minn. He was 84.

Dr. Cronin’s death was announced by the University of Chicago, where he was a professor emeritus of physics as well as of astronomy and astrophysics. No cause was reported.

Through the study of the decay of a single subatomic particle, Dr. Cronin and a colleague, Val Logsdon Fitch of Princeton University, made it possible for inferences to be drawn about the laws of nature on a scale as vast as the entire universe, in all its unfathomable immensity and multibillion-year duration. The two shared the 1980 Nobel Prize.

Scientists had assumed a symmetry between the particles making up matter and what theory described as their oppositely charged counterparts. These counterparts formed what is known as antimatter.

In addition, it had been assumed that the laws of nature were, in the terms of science, “invariant under time reversal.” This meant essentially that physics would be the same whether time flowed forward or backward, a concept as intriguing as it is foreign to experience. READ MORE

Nobel laureate and SMU alumnus James Cronin dies

Physics World

Originally Posted: August 27, 2016

American nuclear-physicist James Cronin, who shared the 1980 Nobel Prize for Physics with Val Fitch, died on 25 August, at the age of 84.

James CroninCronin and Fitch – who died in February last year – were awarded the prize for their 1964 discovery that decaying subatomic particles called K mesons violate a fundamental principle in physics known as “CP symmetry.” The research pointed towards a clear distinction between matter and antimatter, helping to explain the dominance of the former over the latter in our universe today.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, on 29 September 1931, Cronin completed his BS in 1951 at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where his father taught Latin and Greek. Cronin moved to the University of Chicago, where he graduated with a PhD in physics in 1955. While there, Cronin benefited from being taught by stalwarts of the field, including Enrico Fermi, Maria Mayer and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

After his doctorate, Cronin worked as an assistant physicist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) until 1958, when he joined the faculty at Princeton University, where he remained until 1971. He then returned to the University of Chicago to become professor of physics. Cronin met Fitch during his time at BNL and it was Fitch who brought him to Princeton. While there, the duo aimed to verify CP symmetry using BNL’s Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) by showing that two different particles did not decay into the same products. READ MORE

Bryson DeChambeau, former SMU golfer, applies physics to his sport

WFAA

Originally Posted: May 18, 2016

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 21:  Bryson DeChambeau tees off on the 12th hole during the first round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks Course on April 21, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – APRIL 21: Bryson DeChambeau tees off on the 12th hole during the first round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks Course on April 21, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images)

IRVING, Texas — During Bryson During Bryson DeChambeau’s press conference before the AT&T Byron Nelson, the subject of physics came up, and how it applies to golf.

Here’s part of his answer: “[…] especially Newtonian mechanics. See, quantum mechanics doesn’t really correlate — I mean, it does, on a really, really minute scale. But doesn’t affect how you’re striking the ball necessarily,” he said. “It’s more Newtonian mechanics.”

DeChambeau majored in physics at SMU and is trying to use what he learned to get better.

“I lean more to the technical side, just because I like numbers,” DeChambeau said. “I like understanding and seeing results. That gives me confidence.” READ MORE

SMU physicists: CERN’s Large Hadron Collider is once again smashing protons, taking data

SMU Research

Originally Posted: May 10, 2016

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and its experiments are back in action, now taking physics data for 2016 to get an improved understanding of fundamental physics.

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Following its annual winter break, the most powerful collider in the world has been switched back on.

Geneva-based CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — an accelerator complex and its experiments — has been fine-tuned using low-intensity beams and pilot proton collisions, and now the LHC and the experiments are ready to take an abundance of data.

The goal is to improve our understanding of fundamental physics, which ultimately in decades to come can drive innovation and inventions by researchers in other fields.

Scientists from SMU’s Department of Physics are among the several thousand physicists worldwide who contribute on the LHC research. READ MORE

SMU physicist Govinda Dhungana and Dr. Bob Kehoe discuss nearby massive Supernova 2013ej explosion

SMU Research

Originally Posted: April 26, 2016

A giant star that exploded 30 million years ago in a galaxy near Earth had a radius prior to going supernova that was 200 times larger than our sun, according to astrophysicists at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The sudden blast hurled material outward from the star at a speed of 10,000 kilometers a second. That’s equivalent to 36 million kilometers an hour or 22.4 million miles an hour, said SMU physicist Govinda Dhungana, lead author on the new analysis. READ MORE

 

International ‘dark matter’ expert, physics professor to present at Louisiana Tech

MyArkLaMiss.com

Originally Posted: March 31, 2016

The College of Engineering and Science at Louisiana Tech University will host Dr. Jodi Cooley, international dark matter expert and associate professor of physics at Southern Methodist University (SMU), as part of the Wallace Herbert Memorial Astronomy Lecture Series.

Cooley’s presentation titled, “Whispers in the Dark” will take place at 7:00 p.m. April 6 in the auditorium of University Hall on the Louisiana Tech campus. She will discuss her research on dark matter with an international group of physicists. The lecture is free to attend and open to the public.

Dark matter is believed to account for 85 percent of the matter in the universe and is, at the moment, unidentified and invisible. Cooley’s work within several collaborations, including the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search detector at the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota, the CDMS and Germanium Observatory for Dark Matter, is intended to explore options to identify this matter. READ MORE

Congratulations Dedman College Dean’s Research Council Award Recipients

March 18, 2016

Dallas Hall4

Congratulations to the the recipients of this year’s Dean’s Research Council grants. The Dean’s Research Council provides competitively awarded seed funding for faculty research and allows them to compete for larger grants and fellowships outside SMU.

Sciences

Peng Tao

Department of Chemistry
Extending the Protein Evolution Paradigm to Combat Antibiotic Drug Resistance

Karen Lupo
Department of Anthropology
Exposing the Myth of the Pristine Rain Forest: Building the Case for the Cultural Landscapes in the Tropical Forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Jingbo Ye
Department of Physics
Developing an Integrated Circuit that Drives Arrays with Ultra Low Power

Humanities

Phillipe Chuard
Department of Philosophy
Time Consciousness: The Lockean View

 

 

Not-So-Mad Man: Bryson DeChambeau Fuses Art and Science

Golf

Originally Posted: February 29, 2016

It’s been easy to turn Bryson DeChambeau into a caricature. Last summer, as he was on his way to becoming just the fifth person to win the NCAA Championship and U.S. Amateur in the same year, the SMU physics major with the funny clubs and the quirky swing was portrayed as Victor Frankenstein with a sharp short game. It’s true that DeChambeau is a disciple of Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine, the dense, scholarly tome that scientifically breaks down the swing into 24 components with endless variables. And it took tremendous mechanical know-how and extensive testing to perfect DeChambeau’s one-of a-kind set of Edel irons, each of which is the same weight and length (37.5″, a typical 7-iron). But to call DeChambeau a mad scientist ignores the artist within. On the wall of his bedroom in his family’s home in Fresno, Calif., hangs a stippled drawing depicting Ben Hogan’s famous 1-iron at Merion; it took DeChambeau four months to create it. He brings the same creativity to the links, having shaped a dazzling array of shots last summer en route to the historic double-dip that had previously been achieved only by Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore. READ MORE