Sidney Richard Coleman
was an American theoretical physicist
Theoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena...
who studied under Murray Gell-Mann
Murray Gell-Mann is an American physicist and linguist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles...
Life and work
Sidney Coleman grew up on the Far North Side of Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...
. In 1957, he received his undergraduate degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology
Illinois Institute of Technology, commonly called Illinois Tech or IIT, is a private Ph.D.-granting university located in Chicago, Illinois, with programs in engineering, science, psychology, architecture, business, communications, industrial technology, information technology, design, and law...
He received his PhD from Caltech in 1962, and moved to Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...
that year, where he spent his entire career, meeting his wife Diana there in the late 1970s. They were married in 1982.
"He was a giant in a peculiar sense, because he's not known to the general populace," Nobel laureate Sheldon Glashow told the Boston Globe. "He's not a Stephen Hawking; he has virtually no visibility outside. But within the community of theoretical physicists, he's kind of a major god. He is the physicist's physicist."
In 1966, Antonino Zichichi
Antonino Zichichi is an Italian physicist who has worked in the field of nuclear physics.-Biography:Zichichi was born in Trapani, Sicily, in 1929. He has collaborated to several important discoveries in the field of subnuclear physics and has worked in some of the most important research...
recruited Coleman as a lecturer at the then-new summer school at International School for Subnuclear Physics in Erice, Sicily. A legendary figure at the school throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Coleman was awarded the title "Best Lecturer" on the occasion of the school's fifteenth anniversary (1979). His explanation of spontaneous symmetry breaking
Spontaneous symmetry breaking is the process by which a system described in a theoretically symmetrical way ends up in an apparently asymmetric state....
in terms of a little man living inside a ferromagnet has often been cited by later popularizers. The classic particle physics text Aspects of Symmetry
(1985) is a collection of Coleman's lectures at Erice. A quote from his introduction to the book is worth sharing here:
I first came to Erice in 1966, to lecture at the fourth of the annual schools on subnuclear physics organized by Nino Zichichi. I was charmed by the beauty of Erice, fascinated by the thick layers of Sicilian culture and history, and terrified by the iron rule with which Nino kept the students and faculty in line. In a word, I was won over, and I returned to Erice every year or two thereafter, to talk of what was past, or passing, or to come, at least insofar as it touched on subnuclear theory…These lectures span fourteen years, from 1966 to 1979. This was a great time to be a high-energy theorist, the period of the famous triumph of quantum field theory. And what a triumph it was, in the old sense of the word: a glorious victory parade, full of wonderful things brought back from far places to make the spectator gasp with awe and laugh with joy. I hope some of that awe and joy has been captured here.
His lectures at Harvard were also legendary. Students in one quantum field theory course created Tshirts bearing his image and a collection of his more noted quotations, among them: "Not only God knows, I know, and by the end of the semester, you will know."
In 1989, Coleman was awarded the NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing from the National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...
. That award praised his "lucid, insightful, and influential reviews on partially conserved currents, gauge theories, instantons, and magnetic monopoles--subjects fundamental to theoretical physics."
In 2005, Harvard University's physics department held the "SidneyFest"
, a conference on quantum field theory and quantum chromodynamics, organized in his honor.
Aside from his academic work, Coleman was a prominent science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...
enthusiast. He was one of the founders of Advent: Publishers
Advent:Publishers is a publishing house founded by Earl Kemp and other members of the University of Chicago Science Fiction Club, including Sidney Coleman, in 1956, to publish criticism, history, and bibliography of the science fiction field, beginning with James Blish's The Issue at Hand. The...
and occasionally reviewed genre books for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Contributions to physics
Some of his best known works are
- Coleman–Mandula theorem
In quantum field theory, a tadpole is a one-loop Feynman diagram with one external leg, giving a contribution to a one-point correlation function . One-loop diagrams with a propagator that connects back to its originating vertex are often also referred as tadpoles...
- Coleman theorem
Equivalence or equivalent may refer to:*In chemistry:**Equivalent **Equivalence point**Equivalent weight*In computing:**Turing equivalence *In ethics:**Moral equivalence*In history:...
of the Thirring model
The Thirring model is an exactly solvable quantum field theory which describes the self-interactions of a Dirac field in two dimension.-Definition:The Thirring model is given by the Lagrangian density...
and the quantum Sine-Gordon equation
The sine–Gordon equation is a nonlinear hyperbolic partial differential equation in 1 + 1 dimensions involving the d'Alembert operator and the sine of the unknown function. It was originally considered in the nineteenth century in the course of study of surfaces of constant negative...
- Semiclassical analysis of the fate of a false vacuum
In quantum field theory, a false vacuum is a metastable sector of space that appears to be a perturbative vacuum, but is unstable due to instanton effects that may tunnel to a lower energy state. This tunneling can be caused by quantum fluctuations or the creation of high-energy particles...
- Coleman-Weinberg potential
In theoretical physics, Q-ball refers to a type of non-topological soliton. A soliton is a localized field configuration that is stable—it cannot spread out and dissipate. In the case of a non-topological soliton, the stability is guaranteed by a conserved charge: the soliton has lower energy per...
s in the thin-wall limit
- Lectures at Erice, some of which are preserved in his book Aspects of Symmetry (review and teaching)
- Sidneyfest 2005 - physicists' celebration of Sidney Coleman's life
- Chicago Tribune obituary, November 20, 2007.
- Harvard Gazette obituary, November 29, 2007.
- Boston Globe obituary, January 20, 2008.
- Physics Today obituary, May 2008, written by Sheldon Glashow.
- "Quantum Mechanics In Your Face", A lecture by Prof. Coleman at the New England sectional meeting of the American Physical Society April 9, 1994.
- Physics 253: Quantum Field Theory. Video of lectures by Sidney Coleman at Harvard in 1975-1976.