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Cronin Fest activities to honor Nobel Laureate September 8-9 on his 75th birthday

Nearly 300 colleagues and admirers from around the world will convene at the University of Chicago to celebrate the 75th birthday of James Cronin, who shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in physics, during a series of events on Friday, Sept. 8, and Saturday, Sept. 9, at Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th St.

Cronin was born on Sept. 29, 1931, in Chicago, while his father was a graduate student in classical languages and literatures at the University of Chicago.

Among the speakers will be Nobel laureate Val Fitch, professor emeritus of physics at Princeton University, and Alan Watson, research professor of physics at the University of Leeds.

While working at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1964, Cronin and Fitch, both then at Princeton, observed the first example of nature's preference for matter over antimatter. Without this phenomenon, which physicists technically refer to as charge-parity violation, no matter would exist in the universe anywhere.

In their experiment, for which they received the Nobel, Cronin and Fitch studied the short-lived subatomic particles that appeared after the collision of accelerated protons and the nucleus of an atom.

Later in his career, Cronin and a colleague initiated the Pierre Auger Project, a $50 million collaboration of more than 250 scientists in 17 nations to track down the mysterious sources of rare but extremely powerful cosmic rays that periodically bombard Earth.

High-energy cosmic rays consist of protons and other subatomic scraps of matter that fly through the universe at nearly the speed of light. The most powerful cosmic rays contain more than a hundred million times more energy than the particles produced in the world's most powerful particle accelerator. When these rays collide with air molecules in Earth's atmosphere, they trigger a shower that multiplies into billions of secondary particles before they reach the ground.

The project developed from a 1992 suggestion of Cronin and Alan Watson of the University of Leeds. The project broke ground in 1999, and made its first detection of high-energy particles from space in 2001. More than half the observatory's 1,600 detectors are now collecting data.

When completed late this year, the Auger Observatory will consist of a grid of cosmic-ray detectors and associated electronic instruments that covers 1,200 square miles of the vast plain known as the Pampa Amarilla in western Argentina, approximately 600 miles west of Buenos Aires. Scientists also are planning to build a northern Auger site in southeastern Colorado.

Cronin also is editor of the book Fermi Remembered, published in 2004 by the University of Chicago Press. Fermi earned the Nobel Prize in 1938 for his discovery of new radioactive elements produced by the addition of neutrons to the cores of other atoms, and for the discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slowly moving electrons. Nevertheless, he is probably best known outside of scientific circles for his leadership role in building the first nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago during World War II.

Fermi Remembered includes contributions from seven Nobel Prize winners and many other scientists who studied or worked with Fermi at the University of Chicago from 1946 until his death in 1954. The book was an outgrowth of a special symposium of the same titled that Cronin organized on Sept. 29, 2001, the 100th anniversary of Fermi's birth.

"What's significant about Fermi is if you look through his career, he never just did the same thing. He kept moving on to new scientific challenges," Cronin once said of Fermi. But the same statement could be applied to Cronin.

"Jim's career in physics has been marked by his attention to the most pressing problems. He has never hesitated to move to another area of research when there is an important problem to solve," said James Pilcher, Professor in Physics and Director of the University of Chicago's Enrico Fermi Institute.

Cronin received his B.S. degree from Southern Methodist University in 1951. He then attended the University of Chicago for graduate school, earning his M.S. in 1953 and his Ph.D. in 1955.

He began his scientific career at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he served as an assistant physicist from 1955 to 1958. Cronin joined the faculty at Princeton University in 1958, where he remained until 1971, when he was appointed the University Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago. He became University Professor Emeritus of physics in 1997.

Cronin's honors include the National Medal of Science (1999), the University of Chicago's Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (1994), the Ernest Lawrence Memorial Award (1976) for outstanding contributions in the field of atomic energy, the John Price Wetherill Medal of the Franklin Institute (1975), and the Research Corporation Award (1968).

He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received honorary doctorates from 'Université Pierre et Marie Curie and the University of Leeds.


For the schedule of Cronin Fest speakers and their topics, see

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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