Julian Seymour Schwinger


Honorary Degree Recipient

  • Doctor of Science, Purdue University 1961

Julian S. Schwinger shared a Nobel Prize in physics in 1965 for his contributions to quantum electrodynamics with Richard Feynman and Shin-Itiro Tomonaga. What follows is an excerpt from the Purdue honorary degree nomination letter by Professor Hubert James written in 1960.

Professor Schwinger received his Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University in 1939, at the age of 21. He held a National Research Council Fellowship for a year, and was then Research Associate at the University of California for another year. His first regular academic appointment was at Purdue, where he became Instructor in Physics in 1941. He was promoted to Assistant Professor the following year. Beginning in 1943, he received a series of leaves of absence to work as a member of the staff at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, and later at the so-called Metallurgical Laboratory (atom-bomb project) of the University of Chicago. While still on leave of absence, he was promoted to the unusual position of "Assistant Professor; Research Professor in Theoretical Physics." At the end of the war he resigned this position to become Associate Professor at Harvard. He was made full Professor the following year, at the age of 29, his academic advancement having been delayed by war research.

While at the Radiation Laboratory Schwinger invented important methods in electromagnetic field theory, which were extensively employed in the development of the theory of wave guides. He developed variational techniques that produced major advances in several fields of mathematical physics. Still more important were his contributions to the development of the modern form of quantum electrodynamics, through introduction of the "renormalization" technique. For this work he received the Nature of Light Award of the National Academy of Science, and shared with Kurt Godel the first award of the $15,000 Albert Einstein Prize for achievement in Natural Science.

A recent review in Fortune of the work of American physicists says of him, quite justly, "Schwinger and Feynman ... are probably the most gifted theorists to be trained wholly in America. The work of Schwinger, Feynman, Dyson and Tomonaga represents the first major addition to quantum mechanics since its appearance in the twenties. These four physicists restructured its equations so that they are now fully consistent with the concepts of special relativity."

Excerpted from the Honorary Degree nomination letter by Professor Hubert M. James, December 6, 1960

Last Updated: Apr 29, 2016 4:20 PM