Science: Steven Weinberg, Rest in Peace

The Story:

Steven Weinberg, a physicist who broke new ground in the study of the forces at work within the atom, passed away last month. He was 88 years old: his family did not specify the cause of death.


There are generally said to be four fundamental forces in the universe: gravity, electro-magnetism, the “weak force” that causes the decay of atoms, and the “strong force” that holds the nuclei of atoms together.

Weinberg’s work showed that at very high energy levels the weak force and electromagnetism are one and the same. This was a big step toward the Theory of Everything, the theoretical unification of all the forces, that had already long been a Holy Grail for the science.

Weinberg developed this idea in the 1960s — and another scientist, a Pakistani physicist, Dr Abdus Salam, was working on much the same idea. After each had published, this unification of the two forces, and other key ideas related to it, became known as the Weinberg-Salam theory. It is also sometimes given a more revealing name: the Standard Model of the atom.

Strange New Worlds:

Weinberg’s work went beyond even the creation of the Standard Model. He worked on a cosmic scale for his 1972 book, GRAVITATION AND COSMOLOGY. He detailed there and in other works since what he thought had happened in the first three minutes of the existence of the universe, from the Big Bang to the moment when it first became possible for atomic nuclei to bond together.

Since those epic thee minutes, he famously quipped, “nothing of any interest” has happened.


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