"...Online Newsletter from the Pittsburg State University College of Arts and Sciences"

Face-to-face with a Nobel Prize Winner


This semester three Physics graduate students from Pittsburg State University-Yu Bo, Tushar Deshpande, and Xiong Qiang-had an experience that very few people have; they met face to face with a Nobel Prize winning scientist, James Watson Cronin.

Cronin, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1980 , was in Wichita to give his Watkins Prize Lecture. He spoke to the crowd about physics in down to earth terms.

"When Andy Roddick serves a tennis ball with the speed of a hundred miles per hour," said Cronin, "this ball gets a great deal of energy. It is amazing that nature reveals physical processes that can pump up the energy of a tiny little particle, proton, up to that energy of a tennis ball served by Andy."

Dr Cronin was a pioneer of the Pierre Auger experiment. This experiment,  which is currently maintained by an international collaboration of 400 scientists from more than 40 universities in 19 countries, has the objective of studying the highest energy cosmic rays.

"We have built a state-of-the-art physics instrument in a place named Pampa Amarilla, located near the city of Malargüe (province of Mendoza, Argentina), in order to catch those extremely energetic invisible particles coming from outer space," Cronin explained. 

The visit of Dr Cronin to Kansas was not a coincidence. The consortium of six major Kansas colleges, including PSU, is willing to join the Auger Collaboration in order to build the second instrument, much bigger than the first one in Argentina, to be right on the border of Colorado and Kansas. The observatory site would cover an area of 8,000 square miles.  The project would bring educational benefits to the region, attract tourists around the world, and create jobs.

Alex Konopelko, Assistant Professor of Physics at Pittsburg state, who sponsored the trip to Wichita, was very excited by what he heard.

"Where do these extremely energetic particles come from, explosion of a dead star, merge of a few galaxies like ours?" asked Konopelko. "Such questions inspire modern physicists all over the world."

Dr Cronin, who was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  SMU has approximately the same number of undergraduates as Pittsburg State and is where future Nobel Prize winner got his passion for physics.  Konopelko hopes students from PSU can receive the same sort of passion.

"The PSU students had a long and very dynamic chat with Cronin about-guess what-everything," he said.  

"Is it hard to be a Physics professor at the University of Chicago?" one asked.

"Well, sometimes, but it was always fun for me," responded Dr Cronin.

"Have you ever been to China?" asked Yu Bo, who is himself from China.

"Yes. Once I was invited to the Peking University for a talk. I remember we had dinner together with the University's President. He likes jokes I like jokes too. It was a great time."

At the end of the conversation, they said their goodbyes.

"Goodbye, Professor Cronin!",

"Jim, call me Jim, and hope to see you guys again!"         

Do YOU have a story?

If so, contact us!