Special Prize Session
Session T5 at the April meeting
Chaired and reported by Harvey Newman
At a special Prize Session, two distinguished honorees received their awards: Professor Miguel José Yacaman of the University of Texas in San Antonio, winner of the Wheatley Prize, and FIP's own Past Chair Professor Noémie Benczer-Koller of Rutgers University, winner of the Nicholson Medal for Human Outreach.
Professor Yacaman was honored for his work on behalf of his Mexican colleagues and physics in Mexico, as well as its relationship to the rise of physics in Latin America. He was instrumental in founding new programs in materials science research in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Panama as well as Spain, and for his work educating young physicists of Latin American origin since he joined the UT faculty at Austin and more recently San Antonio.
Yacaman spoke of the close relationship among the populations of the border states in the north of Mexico, and those living in the southwestern half of Texas, where people of Latin American origin are the majority. He noted that Texas has a powerful economy, by itself larger than that of Russia, with a gross domestic product of $ 1.2 trillion, and that UTSA is the third largest university in Texas with excellent facilities. Yet many of the students at UTSA struggle with advancing into the mainstream, given their relatively weak academic backgrounds, and/or the lack of a strong academic tradition at home. While there have been notable exceptions, of outstanding students who went on to top U.S. universities for graduate school, some of which have been trained in his own electron microscopy laboratory, these have been relatively few. He closed with specific suggestions for education of Hispanic students: community colleges with 2+2 year programs in physics; remedial programs to improve their academic level so as to improve their rate of acceptance at top graduate schools; and masters programs in physics that include a remedial objective.
Professor Koller, a pioneer as the first female faculty member in physics and later first female tenured member at Rutgers (in 1960 and 1965 respectively), also widely known for her extremely active role working on behalf of the freedom of scientists and the equality of women in science, as well as her leadership as Chair of the APS Nuclear Physics Division (1993-4) and as Chair of FIP in 2010, spoke on "Physics Outreach: Social Benefits". She gave compelling historical examples of physicists who have dedicated themselves to outreach, even at the height of their careers, such as Marie Curie who equipped and drove radiology cars with X-ray machines to help the wounded at the front and in hospitals during World War I. She spoke of the role of Szilard and Einstein who first were instrumental in securing the uranium and funds for the Manhattan Project and who later were leading advocates of nuclear disarmament, and of Charpak whose multiwire proportional tracking chamber has had many applications in biological and medical research.
Koller then spoke of Andrei Sakharov's dedication to a life as a human rights activist at great personal cost, as well as the winners of the APS' Sakharov Prize such as Yuri Orlov and others that have followed in Sakharov's footsteps. One of them, Herman Winick (a former Chair of FIP and now FIP Councillor) has been instrumental, together with Gus Voss of DESY, in the SESAME project that brings together Middle Eastern scientists from Israel and several Arab nations and the Palestinian Authority in a unique spirit of scientific cooperation, in spite of national governments that are decidedly unfriendly to Israel. She also reflected on the dedication of physicists to education of the young in science, notably Nobel prize winners Lederman and Wieman. She called on physicists to Get Involved, in one of the many big issues or our era such as the environment, and especially in work on human rights. She cited the cases of Djordevic and Sutyagin, where her own work with colleagues on the Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists (CIFS) made a difference in freeing them, after they were unjustly accused and imprisoned. In closing, she left the audience with these thoughts:
"Physics, by virtue of its universality, openness and independence from human interference, is a natural instrument to strengthen freedom of thought and freedom to pursue our research interests without bureaucratic and political constraints in the world at large. All of us, working together, can make a difference."
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