Physics Prof Wins Lilienfeld Prize

The American Physical Society named Physics Professor Gerald Gabrielse the winner of the 2011 Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize last week for his contributions to the study and teaching of physics.

Gabrielse developed novel methods of measuring with greater precision the magnetic moment of an electron and the fine structure constant—two quantities that are relevant to modern particle physics research.

The professor and his research team suspended an electron in an apparatus to study a loosely bound electron without the interference of other particles usually found in an atom. By examining the behavior of the electron, Gabrielse made precise measurements of the magnetic moment and fine structure constant.

“Our measurement is arguably the most accurate comparison of any theory and experiment in physics,” said Gabrielse, who added that the team measured the magnetic moment at a precision of three parts in 10 trillion.

Gabrielse emphasized the scope of the research efforts that finally led to the measurements.

“This measurement took us 20 years. There were about 10 grad students involved in it, each developing methods one thesis at a time that we hoped to eventually put together,” he said.

The Lilienfeld Prize awards $10,000, a certificate, and expenses for three lectures. The recognition can be awarded to anybody involved in physics research, regardless of the individual’s specific discipline.

Gabrielse said that he was particularly honored to have been named the winner of the prize due to its acceptance of various types of research within physics.

Gabrielse was also named the winner of the Lilienfeld Prize for his “exceptional skill in sharing the science with diverse audiences.” He delivers more than 50 lectures a year beyond his usual teaching duties at Harvard, and he had been awarded the 2000 Levenson Teaching Award by Harvard.

“He’s a fantastic teacher,” said Physics Lecturer David Morin.

—Staff writer Nitish Lakhanpal can be reached at nitishlakhanpal@college.harvard.edu.

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