25 July 2021

With Steven Weinberg’s death, physics loses a titan

Steven Weinberg died July 23, at the age of 88. He was one of the key intellectual leaders in physics during the second half of the 20th century, and he remained a leading voice and active contributor and teacher through the first two decades of the 21st.

On lists of the greats of his era he was always mentioned along with Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, Feynman and Gell-Mann.

Among his peers, Weinberg was one of the most respected figures in all of physics or perhaps all of science. He exuded intelligence and dignity. As news of his death spread through Twitter, other physicists expressed their remorse at the loss: “One of the most accomplished scientists of our age,” one commented, “a particularly eloquent spokesman for the scientific worldview.” And another: “One of the best physicists we had, one of the best thinkers of any variety.”

Weinberg’s Nobel Prize, awarded in 1979, was for his role in developing a theory unifying electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. That was an essential contribution to what became known as the standard model of physics, a masterpiece of explanation for phenomena rooted in the math describing subatomic particles and forces. It’s so successful at explaining experimental results that physicists have long pursued every opportunity to find the slightest deviation, in hopes of identifying “new” physics that further deepens human understanding of nature.

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