Monday, February 25, 2008

Nobel Laureate in Physics Shared his Discovery and Love of Physics


Florida A&M University (FAMU) students and faculty, and members of the community had a once in a lifetime chance to be in the presence of Nobel Laureate in physics, Jerome Friedman recently during a lecture at FAMU.

Friedman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1990, toured the facilities at the FAMU Humphries Science Research Center and was a guest lecturer.

While he fell in love with physics at a young age, Friedman almost veered in the direction of the arts, turning down a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago to matriculate at the University of Chicago.

Cynthia Hughes Harris, provost and vice president for academic affairs, lauded his decision.

“While the art world laments your loss,” she smiled. “I’m sure that the science world applauds its gain.”

Ray O’Neal, a FAMU associate professor of physics, recalled his senior year at MIT in his introduction of Friedman.

“Dr. Friedman was the chair of the department at the time, and I remembered reading about his work on the existence of quarks and thought, ‘I want to work with him,’ O’Neal said. “After I confirmed that he would be my advisor for my thesis, I was like I’m going to discover a new particle!’”

O’Neal explained to the audience that although he didn’t discover a new particle, he did make another discovery. He said that often times the most interesting results are the ones that you don’t expect at all.

“Dr. Friedman helped me to stay in physics,” O’Neal said. “There were times when I thought about other fields, but his enthusiasm kept me in physics.”

Friedman spoke of a Japanese physicist who first discovered matter in 1903, and discussed the history and evolving theory of atomic particles.

“Although the discovery was made,” Friedman said. “It took about ten years and an enormous amount of controversy before the point of view of particle physics was accepted.”

Lellia Hines, twice a FAMU graduate, with her bachelor’s in cardiopulmonary science and master’s in mathematics education, and now a teacher at the local Griffin Middle School applauded Friedman’s lecture.

“He was extremely good and informative,” she said. “I think it’s an excellent chance for, not only FAMU students, but the community, to hear someone of his [Friedman’s] magnitude speak about things that students are covering in class, and will actually be doing in the near future.”

After his lecture, the floor was opened for questions. A student, too shy to take the microphone, shouted from across the auditorium, “Why physics? What kept you involved in making all these important discoveries?”

“What kept us doing it?” Friedman smirked and replied. “Well, I just figured no one else was doing it, and it was worth a look.”

Photo caption: Jerome Friedman, a Nobel Laureate in physics, recently gave a lecture at Florida A&M University.

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