Top U.S. Science Prize Awarded to TAU Physicist Prof. Yakir Aharonov Tuesday, October 19, 2010
President Obama to present National Medal of Science honors at White House ceremony next month
Prof. Yakir Aharonov
Renowned in the physics community for the "Aharonov-Bohm Effect," Tel Aviv University's Prof. Yakir Aharonov, 78,is one of 10 scientists to win America's National Medal of Science this year. He will receive the award from the hands of President Barack Obama at the White House in a November ceremony.
"The achievements of these scientists redefined the borders of human knowledge," said President Obama when the names of the winners were announced last weekend. The prize is regarded as the most prestigious award granted by a U.S. President to American scientists.
Although Prof. Aharonov is a retired emeritus professor at Tel Aviv University, he maintains a strong connection with the school and visits his office there daily. "I am glad about this prize, simply because the connection to Tel Aviv is dear to me," he said. "Indirectly this prize also belongs to Tel Aviv University."
A breakthrough theory
Holding both American and Israeli citizenship, Prof. Aharonov of Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy is known worldwide for his contribution to the field of quantum physics. He developed the Aharonov–Bohm Effect with the late David Bohm in 1959. The theory describes the action of atomic particles around a magnetic field.
Prof. Aharonov made the prize list for his "contributions to the foundations of quantum physics and for drawing out unexpected implications of that field, ranging from the Aharonov–Bohm Effect to the theory of weak measurement," according to official prize documents.
In 1953, Aharonov proposed a theoretically predicted result that gained international recognition — the Aharonov–Bohm Effect, named for him and his thesis supervisor and mentor, David Bohm. The profound consequence of the Aharonov–Bohm Effect was the realization that electromagnetic potential offers a more complete description of electromagnetism than electric and magnetic fields can. It is a quantum mechanical phenomenon by which an electrically charged particle is affected by the electromagnetic potential A in regions in which both the magnetic field B and electric field E are zero.
Asked what lead him to the discovery of the Aharonov–Bohm Effect, Prof. Aharonov said, "I looked at all the equations everyone was looking at for years, until I suddenly saw something else. As soon as I told Bohm about the idea, we found a physicist that began conducting experiments to prove the theory.
"The most elementary thing in physics is to predict the future of the particle, the change in the particle's speed. In order to do so, one must know where the particle is and what forces control it. In classical physics the particle 'feels' the forces that are in control of it. That is to say, in order for the particle to be affected, the forces must exist at the same place as the particle. What we proved is that quantum physics is wrong — a particle moving in a vacuum outside of a magnetic field will still be affected by the magnetic field."
A noted international scientific figure
Prof. Aharonov was born in Haifa, Israel, and currently holds a joint position as a professor at both Tel Aviv University's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy and Chapman University in California. Over the years he has enjoyed numerous appointments at American research institutions.
Nominated last year for the Nobel Prize, Prof. Aharonov has also been awarded the Wolf Prize (regarded as Israel's equivalent of the Nobel Prize), the Weizmann Prize in Physics, the Rothschild Prize in Physics and the Israel Prize in Exact Science. Prof. Aharonov is also a member of the National Academy of Science in the U.S. and Israel. To date, he has published more than 130 peer-reviewed journal articles.