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Julian Schwinger

Julian SchwingerAKA Julian Seymour Schwinger

Born: 12-Feb-1918
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 16-Jul-1994
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Cancer - Pancreatic
Remains: Buried, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Quantum electrodynamics

Julian Schwinger applied the mathematical process of renormalization to resolve serious incongruities that had developed in the scientific understanding of Paul Dirac's quantum field theory, most famously in a paper published in 1948. With physicist William Rarita (1907-1999) in 1941, he described the Rarita-Schwinger equation, the relativistic field equation of spin-3/2 fermions. In 1952 he proposed Schwinger effect, a calculation of the rate at which an electric field can cause electron-positron pairs to be pulled out of a vacuum. In 1957 he proposed the existence of two different neutrinos, one linked to the electron and one linked to the muon. With Richard Feynman and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, who had conducted similar work independently, Schwinger won the 1965 Nobel Prize for Physics for his "fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles".

He finished high school at 14, and while coasting through City College of New York and scouring physics texts in his spare time, his first scientific paper was published when he was 16. After meeting him, Hans Bethe wrote, "I entirely forgot that he was a sophomore 17 years of age. ... His knowledge of quantum electrodynamics is certainly equal to my own...". He studied under Isidor Isaac Rabi and earned his doctorate at 18, though the degree was delayed three years due to his resolute disinterest in attending required lectures covering material he already knew. His thesis was published and recognized as an important study of neutron scattering by hydrogen molecules. During World War II he was briefly involved with the Manhattan Project, before deciding that he did not want to work on the design and construction of atomic weapons, and instead joining the effort to develop microwave radar.

After the war he taught at Harvard, becoming a full professor at the age of 29. He came to the University of California at Los Angeles in 1972, where he effectively distanced himself from the mainstream of theoretical physics by pursuing a phenomenological theory of particles, which has not been widely accepted. He continued his research at UCLA until mere days before his death from pancreatic cancer in 1994.

Father: Benjamin Schwinger (dress manufacturer)
Mother: Belle Rosenfeld
Wife: Harold Schwinger
Wife: Clarice Carrol (m. 1947)

    High School: Townsend Harris High School, Queens, NY (1932)
    University: BS Physics, City College of New York (1936)
    University: PhD Physics, Columbia University (1939)
    Fellow: Physics, University of California at Berkeley (1939-40)
    Scholar: Physics, University of California at Berkeley (1940-41)
    Teacher: Physics, Purdue University (1941-42)
    Scholar: Manhattan Project, University of Chicago (1942-43)
    Scholar: Radiation Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1943-45)
    Teacher: Physics, Harvard University (1945-47)
    Professor: Physics, Harvard University (1947-66)
    Professor: Higgins Professor of Physics, Harvard University (1966-72)
    Professor: Physics, University of California at Los Angeles (1972-80)
    Professor: Univ. Prof. of Physics, University of California at Los Angeles (1980-94)

    Albert Einstein Medal 1951 (with Kurt Gödel)
    National Medal of Science 1964
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1965 (with Richard Feynman and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga)
    American Physical Society
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Civil Liberties Union
    Federation of American Scientists
    National Academy of Sciences 1949
    Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
    Manhattan Project 1942-43
    Jewish Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Depression

Author of books:
Quantum Theory of Angular Momentum (1965, physics)
Particles, Sources, and Fields (1970, physics; two volumes)
Einstein’s Legacy: The Unity of Space and Time (1986, physics)


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