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Renowned Physicist Gerald Gabrielse To Join Northwestern

Gabrielse will be founding director of the Center for Fundamental Physics at Low Energies
  • Physicist is ‘big-picture thinker, scientist of the highest caliber and dedicated teacher’
  • Research could have a major impact on field of particle physics, challenging current theory
  • Measurements could reveal new particles beyond reach of Large Hadron Collider
  • New center will ensure Northwestern is a leader in atomic, molecular and optical physics

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Physicist Gerald Gabrielse, a leader in super-precise measurements of fundamental particles and the study of anti-matter, will join Northwestern University as Board of Trustees Professor of Physics, the University announced today. He also will be the founding director of the Center for Fundamental Physics at Low Energies.

Gabrielse, a past chair of the Harvard University physics department and currently the George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Physics at Harvard, is internationally renowned for his precise comparisons of matter and anti-matter. Discovery of any unexpected difference between matter and anti-matter would shatter the world of particle physics. His application of the techniques of atomic physics to make super-precise measurements of the electron plays an important role in particle physics; these measurements are sensitive to new physics effects beyond the reach of the Large Hadron Collider.

“Jerry is a big-picture thinker, scientist of the highest caliber and dedicated teacher,” said Adrian Randolph, dean of Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “We are thrilled to have him join our faculty. He and the Center for Fundamental Physics will ensure Northwestern is a leader in atomic, molecular and optical physics.”

In addition to his research, Gabrielse is known as a gifted educator of both undergraduate and graduate students. Of his many prestigious awards, he is most proud of Harvard’s Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching. 

Gabrielse will join Northwestern Sept. 1, 2017. He will build a broad research group that focuses on a variety of atomic, elementary particle and low-temperature physics experiments.

“Jerry is advancing our knowledge of the fundamental building blocks of the universe in very creative ways,” Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer said. “He will bring a great intellect and curiosity as well as a talented group of researchers to Northwestern.”

Gabrielse will make a distinctive and lasting contribution to Northwestern and to the department of physics and astronomy.

“As founding director of Northwestern’s Center for Fundamental Physics at Low Energies, I have the chance to establish an internationally visible and significant center of excellence that will be an exciting new opportunity for the University’s students and faculty members,” Gabrielse said. 

Unlike most atomic physics efforts at other institutions, research at this new center will focus on physics issues of a fundamental nature. Defining questions include: Can the indirect influence of new forces be seen through precision measurements of elementary particles? Are fundamental constants truly constant or do they change with time?

Gabrielse and his collaborators have investigated how round the charge distribution of an electron is. He is able to suspend a single electron for months at a time while measuring its magnetic moment to an incredible precision of three parts in 10 trillion. This measurement is the most stringent test of the most precise prediction ever made by physics theory. It is also the most precise measurement of a property of an elementary particle.

“Welcoming Jerry to Northwestern is a quantum leap towards excellence for our department,” said Michael Schmitt, professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern and chair of the department. “His scientific achievements are world class, and his dedication and devotion to his students, both in his research group and in his classes, are inspiring.”

Gabrielse started the low-energy anti-proton and anti-hydrogen research program at the CERN laboratory in Europe. Hundreds of researchers have since joined such studies of anti-matter at CERN.

Gabrielse’s studies of the anti-proton and anti-hydrogen atom test a very fundamental law of physics. This law, known as “CPT invariance,” relates charge, parity and time. If Gabrielse were to find the law to be violated, even at the tiniest level, then theoretical physics would face a huge challenge. “This is a question that only experiments can answer,” he said. “God decides, we measure.” 

Gabrielse is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS). He served on numerous NAS committees and as chair of the division of atomic, molecular and optical physics of the APS.

He has received many distinguished awards, including the Julius Lilienfeld Prize and the Davisson-Germer Prize, both from the APS; Italy’s Tomassoni Prize; the Humboldt Research Award from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; and the Trotter Prize from Texas A&M University. In addition to the Levenson Prize, Gabrielse received from Harvard the George Ledlie Prize for exceptional research.

Gabrielse is an author of nearly 200 scientific publications. He also is a popular speaker who has given hundreds of invited lectures at conferences, university colloquiums, high schools and popular science venues.

Gabrielse received his master’s degree (1975) and doctorate (1980) from the University of Chicago. After a brief faculty position at the University of Washington in Seattle, he joined the Harvard faculty in 1987 as a full professor. Gabrielse also was a visiting scientist at both the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics and the Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany (2007 to 2008).