Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Tech graduate wins 1996 Nobel in physics

By Netta S. Smith

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 12 - November 14, 1996

Virginia Tech alumnus Robert C. Richardson has won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Richardson, who is Cornell University's Floyd R. Newman professor of physics and director of the Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics, shares the prize with a fellow Cornell professor, and a former doctoral student now at Stanford.

The trio discovered that a helium isotope, helium 3, can be made into a superfluid-meaning that it can flow without friction-at extremely low temperatures. Such a discovery is outside the realm of classical physics, which says that movement always causes resistance.

The discovery gives scientists studying the origins of the universe a possible explanation for the fact that stars and galaxies are clumped rather than evenly scattered throughout the universe. The theory is based on the idea that the original material for the universe was a superfluid and therefore did not encounter friction after the "Big Bang." It is friction that causes debris from an explosion to scatter in an even pattern.

Richardson has taught at Cornell since 1968. He serves on Virginia Tech's Physics Advisory Committee, a group that meets annually to examine and offer advice on the direction of the university's physics program. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Guggenheim fellow, and a fellow of the American Physical Society.

Richardson received his bachelor's and master's degree from the university in 1958 and 1960, respectively.