Philip Anderson’s 90th birthday is coming up next month, and Princeton will host a workshop commemorating the event. Witten and Wilczek will give talks on the Anderson-Higgs mechanism, for which Anderson recently was not awarded a Nobel Prize (for the history of this, more here).
Princeton condensed matter theorist Shivaji Sondhi has an article here about the role of Anderson in the Higgs story, rightly emphasizing “the remarkable intellectual unity of modern physics.”
Many have speculated that a reason for Anderson not getting a piece of this year’s Nobel Prize was his public opposition to the SSC project back in the 1980s. He was far from the only physicist opposing the project, since there was widespread concern that in the Reagan-era environment of budget-cutting, devoting large sums to an HEP project would mean reduced funding for the rest of physics. Anderson has a letter in the latest APS News about this. For a summary of his concerns about the SSC, see this opinion piece from 1987.
One thing that exacerbated conflict between HEP physicists and others at the time were claims about “spin-offs” from building large accelerators, with some people claiming that HEP physics was responsible for MRI machines. Anderson recalls:
As I was leaving the committee room behind Steve Weinberg, the particle physicist who had testified for the SSC, one of the senators accosted him and effusively thanked him for his role in the development of MRI, which had been instrumental in treatment of a relative. Since close friends and I had been responsible for most of the basic research underlying MRI’s superconductiing magnets, this was a bit of a bitter pill for me to swallow.
For Weinberg’s point of view on this, see here, where he writes:
The claim of elementary-particle physicists to be leading the exploration of the reductionist frontier has at times produced resentment among condensed-matter physicists. (This was not helped by a distinguished particle theorist, who was fond of referring to condensed-matter physics as “squalid state physics”.) This resentment surfaced during the debate over the funding of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC). I remember that Phil Anderson and I testified in the same Senate committee hearing on the issue, he against the SSC and I for it. His testimony was so scrupulously honest that I think it helped the SSC more than it hurt it. What really did hurt was a statement opposing the SSC by a condensed-matter physicist who happened at the time to be the president of the American Physical Society.
In recent years the hot topic in the string theory end of HEP theory has become “AdS/CMT”, the attempt to apply AdS/CFT ideas to condensed matter theory models. Anderson at nearly 90 is still dealing with HEP hype, see this from the April issue of Physics Today.
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