Roger Stuewer Awarded 2013 Pais Prize

By Lillian Hoddeson and Michael Riordan

Roger Stuewer giving a cross handshake to congratulators Gloria Lubkin and Greg Good
Roger Stuewer giving a cross handshake to congratulators Gloria Lubkin and Greg Good

Roger H. Stuewer has been chosen to receive the 2013 Pais Prize for the History of Physics in recognition of his intellectual contributions to the field, as well as for his untiring efforts in fostering its development. In its citation, the Pais Prize Selection Committee recognized him "for his pioneering historical studies of the photon concept and nuclear physics, and for his leadership in bringing physicists into writing the history of physics by helping to organize and develop supporting institutions and publications."

Stuewer's research on the history of the light quantum was published in the definitive scholarly volume, The Compton Effect: Turning Point in Physics (1975), as well as a series of widely read articles. This body of work explains why Einstein's 1905 proposal that light consists of individual quanta was rejected for almost two decades by virtually all physicists until it was confirmed by Arthur Compton's X-ray scattering experiments, published in 1923. Drawing upon Compton's research notebooks and many other archival resources, Stuewer's analysis was set in the context of attempts to understand the nature of X-rays and gamma rays.

During the 1980s, as one of the first historians to examine the discovery of the neutron and the rise of nuclear physics, Stuewer again combined his scientific knowledge with a deep understanding of the social, political, and institutional contexts of his subjects to write a series of pivotal articles. These influential publications include "The Nuclear Electron Hypothesis" (1983); "Rutherford's Satellite Model of the Nucleus" (1986); and "The Origin of the Liquid-Drop Model and the Interpretation of Nuclear Fission" (1994). His studies of early nuclear physics culminated in a brilliant demonstration of how the liquid-drop models as developed in Berlin and Copenhagen influenced the work of Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch and led to their famous formulation of the theory of uranium fission.

Stuewer's scholarship is only one of his important contributions to our discipline. Throughout his lengthy career, he has brought the history of physics to wider audiences and helped practicing physicists contribute to the history of physics in collaboration with historians. Stuewer edited several volumes in the history of science — for example, Nuclear Physics in Retrospect (1979), the proceedings of a historical symposium on nuclear physics in the 1930s, which he organized and sponsored at Minnesota in 1977. Among the participants and contributors were Hans Bethe, Otto Frisch, Maurice Goldhaber, Edwin McMillan, Rudolf Peierls, Emilio Segrè, John Wheeler and Eugene Wigner. His model for this gathering became the basis for subsequent symposia and scholarly volumes on the history of particle physics organized by Laurie Brown and others. In 1997 Stuewer and John Rigden founded and began serving as the co-editors of the journal Physics in Perspective. Among the most prestigious journals in the history of physics today, it publishes articles by a mixture of physicists, philosophers and historians.

Stuewer has also been highly productive in building social institutions to help physicists and historians work together. For example, he established the Program in History of Science and Technology at the University of Minnesota, which in 2007 merged with its Program in History of Medicine to form the largest such program in the United States. Its success is due in part to Stuewer's insistence that both scientists and historians be included. He served as Director of the Program from 1975 to 1989. Stuewer was also a co-founder of the APS Division of the History of Physics — and its successor, the Forum on the History of Physics — having served on its Organizing Committee in 1979–1980. He has served on the DHP and FHP Executive Committee, and as the Forum Chair and Forum Councilor, representing it on the APS Council. The series of annual Seven Pines Symposia, which Stuewer founded in the mid- 1990s, has had a significant impact on the history and philosophy of physics by bringing together prominent physicists and leading historians and philosophers of physics for discussion of key issues in the foundations of modern physics.

We heartily congratulate Roger Stuewer on his receipt of the Pais Prize, one of the highest honors in the history of physics.

The articles in this issue represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the Forum or APS.