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  • Writer's pictureAlex Cassem

What Weinberg Did for Me.

As I am sure everyone who follows physics and science news in general, Steven Weinberg died on July 23rd, 2021 at the age of 88. Already, there have been many quick biographical pieces written on his life and impact in the field of theoretical physics. However, I won't focus on these aspects, but instead on the more human ones that have affected thousands of future theoretical physicists, including me.

My first physics book was of course The First Three Minutes. This tantalizing book, although old and some of the cited figures and numbers outdated (or replaced by better, moderns ones), introduces the reader to the very first minutes of the big bang in surprising detail considering it is usually advertised as a popular science text. It was this text that started my journey along physics.

The next instance where Weinberg's brilliance reached me was during my second year of college in my goal to study and research cosmology. I grabbed a copy of his Cosmology which after taking an introduction to cosmology course at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and found a new perspective on how to view cosmology and physics in general, which was exactly what I was looking for. Weinberg has the unique perspective and ability where as he is writing a textbook, he does it so in the view of energy and in a sense, teaches himself along the way. This is the way I usually view physics, since when thinking about extremely abstract concepts, that are deep in mathematically-geometric physics concepts, describing them in terms of energy is extremely useful (although difficult). This was what Weinberg solidified for me in my physics career.

Weinberg received his bachelor's degree at 22 from Cornell, his PhD in 1957 at 25, and produced his Nobel prize winning paper (which was 2 pages...) in 1967 at the age of 35. The meaning behind stating this is to give a the timeline of what a hero in physics looks like. Although it should be stated that he attended the Bronx High School of Science; an extremely prestigious school in teaching the sciences in high school (very hard to get into). This timeline is something I believe everyone should attempt to follow in their pursuits to be a great physicists, but with knowledge of their limits, or find a way to get around them. Although, what we know now, and how much we have to learn, as an upcoming graduate student, the stakes are raised, and the amount to learn is much larger.

I now end with a call to other upcoming physicists that we need heroes. Many of the giants of physics from the 1940's until today have been slowly leaving us: Feynman, Wheeler, Hawking, Schwinger, Dyson, Dirac, and Sagan. I am sure I missed a few for which I apologize, but the point will still get across. Each name you read off, a flurry of memories, modes of thinking, brilliant deductions, amazing ways to explain complicated topics, and most importantly, contributions in discovering the physics of the universe have set these people apart from others. These people are heroes. Now, attempt to recall people of the same caliber who are present today. To me, only three names come up: Witten, Penrose, and Susskind. Each person I listed, along with those above, satisfy two crucial categories to be classified as a hero of physics in my opinion: physical discoveries that pull not just people but seemingly countries worth to study and prove these claims are true (or have high merit), and can deliver these ideas and concepts in a new perspective that teaches generations to come. This is because one can teach, and be brilliant at it, but may not contribute a large amount of scientific knowledge. The same is true vice versa, where they have contributed highly, but teaching is not a strong suit, or communication to the masses (of physicists) does not come across well.

Now, I am not saying I will satisfy the above claim, or am pursuing to become one, but this early on in my life at 22 years of age, it seems like I must try not just for myself, but for the masses. This is how I can make a lasting impression on the world. Now, I don't know if this is "young ignorance," and I will be looked down upon for thinking about such large heights in life without even being in graduate school currently, or this is perhaps the very exact same reasoning which has stopped people from becoming the new heroes of physics. Either way, the journey is certainly tough.

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