University of South Carolina

Former physics professor wins National Medal of Science

Dr. Yakir Aharonov, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina, has been awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest honor for scientists.

The honorees, along with recipients of the National Award for Engineering and Innovation, were announced by President Obama and were recognized Wednesday (Nov. 17) in Washington.

The award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions in the fields of science or engineering and innovation and is one of many bestowed on Aharonov for his revolutionary work in the foundations of quantum theory. He is widely considered to be a contender for the Nobel Prize.

From 1973 - 2006, Aharonov held joint appointments in USC’s department of physics and astronomy and the University of Tel Aviv. Dr. Frank Avignone, a colleague and chairman of the department during much of Aharonov’s tenure, said his research contributed to the understanding of quantum theory as much as any physicist of our times.

“His colleagues at USC, and at many other universities, state unequivocally that his grasp of quantum physics is unrivaled,” Avignone said.

Aharonov attributed much his success to his colleagues at USC.

“Without the influence of the dean and department chair to publish my work as it came out, I probably would not be here tonight,” he said.

Aharonov is best known for his 1960 discovery, with David Bohm, of the Aharonov-Bohm Effect, which revolutionized the field of quantum theory. The Aharonov-Bohm effect, controversial for more than 20 years, was confirmed by several experiments in the 1980s. Citations to the original paper by Aharonov and Bohm number in the thousands because its concept has broad application in many areas of theoretical physics.

“Just this discovery alone would have merited the National Medal of Science,” Avignone said. “However, he has continued to this day to enlighten the field with his unique insights into the foundations of quantum theory.”

During his association with USC, Aharonov worked mainly with professors Pawel Mazur and the late Jeeva Anandan, who led members of USC’s Foundations of Quantum Theory Group. He also headed a Summer Institute on the Foundations of Quantum Theory that attracted internationally renowned scholars and generated enthusiasm on the part of many faculty and students.

After retiring from USC in 2006, he was at George Mason University for a short period but then moved to Chapman University in California, where he is James J. Farley Professor of Natural Philosophy.

Aharonov, a fellow of the American Physical Society, has won numerous honors and prizes. Among them are the Weizmann Prize in Physics, the Rothschild Prize in Physics, the Miller Research Professorship Award at the University of California Berkeley, the Alex Maguy-Glass Chair in Theoretical Physics at Tel Aviv University, the Hewlett-Packard Europhysics Prize, the Israel National Prize in Physics and the Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute and Wolf Prize in Physics, the Distinguished Scientist Governor’s Award of South Carolina, and the EMET Prize in Exact Sciences.

He is a member of the National Academy of Science of Israel and the National Academy of Science, U.S.A.

He holds honorary doctoral degrees from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Bristol University, the University of Buenos Aires and USC.

The National Medal of Science was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Nominees are selected by a committee of presidential appointees based on their advanced knowledge in, and contributions to, the biological, behavioral/social and physical sciences, as well as chemistry, engineering, computing and mathematics.

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 11/17/10 @ 6:50 PM | Updated: 11/19/10 @ 4:51 PM | Permalink