Jack Steinberger

Jack Steinberger (born May 25, 1921) is an American physicist who, along with Leon M. Lederman and Melvin Schwartz, received the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the muon neutrino.

Jack Steinberger
Steinberger in 2008
Hans Jakob Steinberger

(1921-05-25) May 25, 1921
NationalityGermany-United States-Switzerland
Known forDiscovery of the muon neutrino
Spouse(s)Cynthia Alff
ChildrenJulia Steinberger
Ned Steinberger
AwardsNobel Prize in Physics (1988)
National Medal of Science (1988)
Matteucci Medal (1990)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Berkeley
Columbia University
Academic advisorsEdward Teller
Enrico Fermi
Notable studentsMelvin Schwartz
Eric L. Schwartz
David R. Nygren
Theodore Modis


Steinberger was born in the city of Bad Kissingen in Bavaria, Germany, in 1921. The rise of Nazism in Germany, with its open anti-Semitism, prompted his parents, Ludwig (a cantor and religious teacher) and Berta,[1] to send him out of the country.

Steinberger emigrated to the United States at the age of 13, making the trans-Atlantic trip with his brother Herbert. Jewish charities in the U.S. arranged for Barnett Farroll to care for him as a foster child. During this period, Steinberger attended New Trier Township High School, in Winnetka, Illinois.

Steinberger studied chemical engineering at Armour Institute of Technology (now Illinois Institute of Technology) but left after his scholarship ended to help supplement his family's income. He obtained a bachelor's degree in Chemistry from the University of Chicago, in 1942. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Signal Corps at MIT. With the help of the G.I. Bill, he returned to graduate studies at the University of Chicago in 1946, where he studied under Edward Teller and Enrico Fermi. His Ph.D. thesis concerned the energy spectrum of electrons emitted in muon decay; his results showed that this was a three-body decay, and implied the participation of two neutral particles in the decay (later identified as the electron () and muon () neutrinos) rather than one.

As an atheist and a humanist, Steinberger is a Humanist Laureate in the International Academy of Humanism.[2][3]

He is the father of Ned Steinberger, founder of the eponymous company for headless guitars and basses and Julia Steinberger, an ecological economist at the University of Leeds.

Early career

After receiving his doctorate, Steinberger attended the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for a year. In 1949 he published a calculation of the lifetime of the neutral pion,[4] which anticipated the study of anomalies in quantum field theory.

Following Princeton, Steinberger went to the Radiation Lab at the University of California at Berkeley, where he performed an experiment which demonstrated the production of neutral pions and their decay to photon pairs. This experiment utilized the 330 MeV synchrotron and the newly invented scintillation counters.[5] Despite this and other achievements, he was asked to leave the Radiation Lab at Berkeley due to his refusal to sign the so-called non-Communist Oath.

Steinberger accepted a faculty position at Columbia in 1950. The newly commissioned meson beam at Nevis Labs provided the tool for several important experiments. Measurements of the production cross section of pions on various nuclear targets showed that the pion has odd parity.[6] A direct measurement of the production of pions on a liquid hydrogen target, then not a common tool, provided the data needed to show that the pion has spin zero. The same target was used to observe the relatively rare decay of neutral pions to a photon, an electron, and a positron. A related experiment measured the mass difference between the charged and neutral pions based on the angular correlation between the neutral pions produced when the negative pion is captured by the proton in the hydrogen nucleus.[7] Other important experiments studied the angular correlation between electron-positron pairs in neutral pion decays, and established the rare decay of a charged pion to an electron and neutrino; the latter required use of a liquid-hydrogen bubble chamber.[8]

Investigations of strange particles

During 1954–1955, Steinberger contributed to the development of the bubble chamber with the construction of a 15 cm device for use with the Cosmotron at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The experiment used a pion beam to produce pairs of hadrons with strange quarks in order to elucidate the puzzling production and decay properties of these particles.[9] Somewhat later, in 1956, he used a 30 cm chamber outfitted with three cameras to discover the neutral Sigma hyperon and measure its mass.[10] This observation was important for confirming the existence of the SU(3) flavor symmetry which hypothesizes the existence of the strange quark.

An important characteristic of the weak interaction is its violation of parity symmetry. This characteristic was established through the measurement of the spins and parities of many hyperons. Steinberger and his collaborators contributed several such measurements using large (75 cm) liquid-hydrogen bubble chambers and separated hadron beams at Brookhaven.[11] One example is the measurement of the invariant mass distribution of electron-positron pairs produced in the decay of Sigma-zero hyperons to Lambda-zero hyperons.[12]

Neutrinos and the weak neutral current

In the 1960s, the emphasis in the study of the weak interaction shifted from strange particles to neutrinos. Leon Lederman, Steinberger and Schwartz built large spark chambers at Nevis Labs and exposed them in 1961 to neutrinos produced in association with muons in the decays of charged pions and kaons. They used the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) at Brookhaven, and obtained a number of convincing events in which muons were produced, but no electrons.[13] This result, for which they received the Nobel Prize in 1988, proved the existence of a type of neutrino associated with the muon, distinct from the neutrino produced in beta decay.

Study of CP violation

The CP violation (charge conjugation and parity) was established in the neutral kaon system in 1964. Steinberger recognized that the phenomenological parameter epsilon (ε) which quantifies the degree of CP violation could be measured in interference phenomena (See CP violation). In collaboration with Carlo Rubbia, he performed an experiment while on sabbatical at CERN during 1965 which demonstrated robustly the expected interference effect, and also measured precisely the difference in mass of the short-lived and long-lived neutral kaon masses.[14][15]

Back in the United States, Steinberger conducted an experiment at Brookhaven to observe CP violation in the semi-leptonic decays of neutral kaons. The charge asymmetry relates directly to the epsilon parameter, which was thereby measured precisely.[16] This experiment also allowed the deduction of the phase of epsilon, and confirmed that CPT is a good symmetry of nature.


In 1968, Steinberger left Columbia University and accepted a position as a department director at CERN. He constructed an experiment there utilizing multi-wire proportional chambers (MWPC), recently invented by Georges Charpak. The MWPC's, augmented by micro-electronic amplifiers, allowed much larger samples of events to be recorded. Several results for neutral kaons were obtained and published in the early 1970s, including the observation of the rare decay of the neutral kaon to a muon pair, the time-dependence of the asymmetry for semi-leptonic decays, and a more precise measurement of the neutral kaon mass difference. A new era in experimental technique was opened.

These new techniques proved crucial for the first demonstration of direct CP-violation. The NA31 experiment at CERN was built in the early 1980s using the CERN SPS 400 GeV proton synchrotron. Aside from banks of MWPC's and a hadron calorimeter, it featured a liquid argon electromagnetic calorimeter with exceptional spatial and energy resolution. NA31 showed that direct CP violation is real.[17]

Later, Steinberger worked on the ALEPH experiment at the Large Electron–Positron Collider (LEP), where he served as the experiment's first spokesperson. Among the ALEPH experiment's initial accomplishments was the precise measurement of the number of families of leptons and quarks in the Standard Model through the measurement of the decays of the Z boson.[18]

Nobel Prize

Jack Steinberger was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1988, "for the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino".[19] He shares this prize with Leon M. Lederman and Melvin Schwartz. At the time, all three experimenters were at Columbia University.

The experiment used charged pion beams generated with the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The pions decayed to muons which were detected in front of a steel wall; the neutrinos were detected in spark chambers installed behind the wall. The coincidence of muons and neutrinos demonstrated that a second kind of neutrino was created in association with muons. Subsequent experiments proved this neutrino to be distinct from the first kind (electron-type). Steinberger, Lederman and Schwartz published their work in Physical Review Letters in 1962.[13]

He gave his Nobel medal to New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois (USA), of which he is an alumnus.

See also


  1. "Jack Steinberger - Biographical". www.nobelprize.org. Archived from the original on 18 December 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  2. The International Academy of Humanism Archived 2008-04-24 at the Wayback Machine at the website of the Council for Secular Humanism. Retrieved 18 October 2007. Some of this information is also at the International Humanist and Ethical Union Archived 2012-04-18 at the Wayback Machine website
  3. Istva ́n Hargittai, Magdolna Hargittai (2006). Candid Science VI: More Conversations with Famous Scientists. Imperial College Press. p. 749. ISBN 9781860948855. Jack Steinberger: "I'm now a bit anti-Jewish since my last visit to the synagogue, but my atheism does not necessarily reject religion."
  4. J. Steinberger (1949). "On the use of subtraction fields and the lifetimes of some types of meson decay". Physical Review. 76 (8): 1180. Bibcode:1949PhRv...76.1180S. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.76.1180. Archived from the original on 2012-12-10.
  5. J. Steinberger; W. K. H. Panofsky; J. Steller (1950). "Evidence for the production of neutral mesons by photons". Physical Review. 78 (6): 802. Bibcode:1950PhRv...78..802S. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.78.802. Archived from the original on 2012-12-15.
  6. C. Chedester; P. Isaacs; A. Sachs; J. Steinberger (1951). "Total cross-sections of π-mesons on protons and several other nuclei". Physical Review. 82 (6): 958. Bibcode:1951PhRv...82..958C. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.82.958. Archived from the original on 2012-12-12.
  7. W. Chinkowsky; J. Steinberger (1954). "The mass difference of neutral and negative π mesons". Physical Review. 93 (3): 586. Bibcode:1954PhRv...93..586C. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.93.586.
  8. G. Impeduglia; R. Plano; A. Prodell; N. Samios; M. Schwartz; J. Steinberger (1958). "β decay of the pion". Physical Review Letters. 1 (7): 249. Bibcode:1958PhRvL...1..249I. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.1.249.
  9. R. Budde; M. Chretien; J. Leitner; N.P. Samios; M. Schwartz; J. Steinberger (1956). "Properties of heavy unstable particles produced by 1.3 BeV π mesons". Physical Review. 103 (6): 1827. Bibcode:1956PhRv..103.1827B. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.103.1827.
  10. R. Plano; N. Samios; M. Schwartz; J. Steinberger (1957). "Demonstration of the existence of the Σ0 hyperon and a measurement of its mass". Il Nuovo Cimento. 5 (1): 216. Bibcode:1957NCim....5..216P. doi:10.1007/BF02812828.
  11. F. Eisler, R. Plano, A. Prodell, N. Samios, M. Schwartz, J. Steinberger, P. Bassi, V. Borelli, G. Puppi, G. Tanaka, P. Woloschek, V. Zoboli, M. Conversi, P. Franzini, I. Mannelli, R. Santangelo, V. Silvestrini, D. A. Glaser, C. Graves, and M. L. Perl Demonstration of Parity Nonconservation in Hyperon Decay.Phys. Rev. 108, 1353 – Published 1 December 1957
  12. C. Alff-Steinberger; et al. (1963). Siena 1963 Conference Report: 205. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. G. Danby; J.-M. Gaillard; K. Goulianos; L. M. Lederman; N. B. Mistry; M. Schwartz; J. Steinberger (1962). "Observation of high-energy neutrino reactions and the existence of two kinds of neutrinos". Physical Review Letters. 9 (1): 36. Bibcode:1962PhRvL...9...36D. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.9.36. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05.
  14. C. Alff-Steinberger; et al. (1966). "KS and KL interference in the π+π decay mode, CP invariance and the KS−KL mass difference". Physics Letters. 20 (2): 207. Bibcode:1966PhL....20..207A. doi:10.1016/0031-9163(66)90937-1.
  15. C. Alff-Steinberger; et al. (1966). "Further results from the interference of KS and KL in the π+π decay modes". Physics Letters. 21 (5): 595. Bibcode:1966PhL....21..595A. doi:10.1016/0031-9163(66)91312-6.
  16. S. Bennett; D. Nygren; H. Saal; J. Steinberger; J. Sutherland (1967). "Measurement of the charge asymmetry in the decay

    +ν". Physical Review Letters. 19 (17): 993. Bibcode:1967PhRvL..19..993B. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.19.993.
  17. H. Burkhardt; et al. (1988). "First evidence for direct CP violation". Physics Letters B. 206 (1): 169. Bibcode:1988PhLB..206..169B. doi:10.1016/0370-2693(88)91282-8.
  18. D. Decamp; et al. (1989). "A Precise Determination of the Number of Families With Light Neutrinos and of the Z Boson Partial Widths". Physics Letters B. 235 (3–4): 399. doi:10.1016/0370-2693(90)91984-J.
  19. Anthony, Katarina (11 July 2011). "In conversation with Nobel laureate Jack Steinberger". CERN Bulletin (28–29).


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