Kenneth Geddes "Ken" Wilson (June 8, 1936 – June 15, 2013)
was an American theoretical physicist and a pioneer in leveraging
computers for studying particle physics. He was awarded the 1982 Nobel
Prize in Physics for his work on phase transitions—illuminating the
subtle essence of phenomena like melting ice and emerging magnetism.
It was embodied in his fundamental work on the renormalization group.
3 Awards and honors
4 See also
6 External links
Wilson was born on June 8, 1936, in Waltham, Massachusetts, the oldest
child of Emily Buckingham Wilson and E. Bright Wilson, a prominent
chemist at Harvard University, who did important work on microwave
emissions. His mother also trained as a physicist. He attended several
schools, including Magdalen College School, Oxford, England, ending up
George School in eastern Pennsylvania.
He went on to
Harvard College at age 16, majoring in Mathematics and,
on two occasions, ranked among the top five in the William Lowell
Putnam Mathematical Competition. He was also a star on the athletics
track, representing Harvard in the Mile. During his summer holidays he
worked at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He earned his PhD
Caltech in 1961, studying under Murray Gell-Mann. He did
post-doc work at Harvard and CERN.
Cornell University in 1963 in the Department of Physics as a
junior faculty member, becoming a full professor in 1970. He also did
research at SLAC during this period. In 1974, he became the James
A. Weeks Professor of Physics at Cornell.
In 1982 he was awarded the
Nobel Prize in Physics
Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on
critical phenomena using the renormalization group.
He was a co-winner of the
Wolf Prize in physics in 1980, together with
Michael E. Fisher and Leo Kadanoff. His other awards include the A.C.
Eringen Medal, the Franklin Medal, the Boltzmann Medal, and the Dannie
Heinemann Prize. He was elected to the National Academy of Science and
the American Academy of Arts and Science, both in 1975 and also was a
member of the American Philosophical Society.
In 1985, he was appointed as Cornell's Director of the Center for
Theory and Simulation in Science and Engineering (now known as the
Cornell Theory Center), one of five national supercomputer centers
created by the National Science Foundation. In 1988, Dr. Wilson joined
the faculty at The Ohio State University, moved to Gray, Maine in
1995. He continued his association with
Ohio State University
Ohio State University until he
retired in 2008. Prior to his death, he was actively involved in
research on physics education and was an early proponent of "active
involvement" (i.e. Science by Inquiry) of K-12 students in science and
Some of his
PhD students include H. R. Krishnamurthy, Roman Jackiw,
Michael Peskin, Serge Rudaz, Paul Ginsparg, and Steven R. White.
Wilson's brother David was also a Professor at Cornell in the
department of Molecular Biology and Genetics until his death, and
his wife since 1982, Alison Brown, is a prominent computer scientist.
He died seven days after his 77th birthday in
Saco, Maine on June 15,
2013. He was respectfully remembered by his colleagues.
Wilson's work in physics involved formulation of a comprehensive
theory of scaling: how fundamental properties and forces of a system
vary depending on the scale over which they are measured. He devised a
universal "divide-and-conquer" strategy for calculating how phase
transitions occur, by considering each scale separately and then
abstracting the connection between contiguous ones, in a novel
appreciation of renormalization group theory. This provided profound
insights into the field of critical phenomena and phase transitions in
statistical physics enabling exact calculations. One
example of an important problem in solid-state physics he solved using
renormalization is in quantitatively describing the Kondo effect.
He then extended these insights on scaling to answer fundamental
questions on the nature of quantum field theory and the operator
product expansion and the physical meaning of the renormalization
He also pioneered our understanding of the confinement of quarks
inside hadrons, utilizing lattice gauge theory, and initiating an
approach permitting formerly foreboding strong-coupling calculations
on computers. On such a lattice, he further shed light on chiral
symmetry, a crucial feature of elementary particle interactions.
Awards and honors
Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics, 1973
Boltzmann Medal, 1975
Wolf Prize, 1980
Harvard University, D.Sc (Hon.), 1981
Caltech, Distinguished Alumni Award, 1981
Franklin Medal, 1982
Nobel Prize for Physics, 1982
A. C. Eringen Medal, 1984
Aneesur Rahman Prize, 1993
American Physical Society
American Physical Society Fellow, 1998
Australian National University, Distinguished Anniversary Fellow, 1996
Lattice gauge theory
^ a b c d
Kenneth G. Wilson at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
^ Wilson, K. G. (1961). "An investigation of the Low equation and the
Chew-Mandelstam equations", Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute
of Technology. 
^ Wilson, K. G. "Broken Scale Invariance and Anomalous Dimensions",
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC,)Stanford University,
Laboratory of Nuclear Studies, Cornell University, United States
Department of Energy (through predecessor agency the Atomic Energy
Commission), (May 1970).
^ Wilson, K. (1974). "The renormalization group and the ε expansion".
Physics Reports. 12 (2): 75–199. Bibcode:1974PhR....12...75W.
doi:10.1016/0370-1573(74)90023-4. ; Wilson, K. (1983). "The
renormalization group and critical phenomena". Reviews of Modern
Physics. 55 (3): 583. Bibcode:1983RvMP...55..583W.
doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.55.583. ; Wilson, K. G. (1974). "Critical
phenomena in 3.99 dimensions". Physica. 73: 119–128.
^ "Renowned biochemist David B. Wilson dies at 77 Cornell
Chronicle". news.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2017-09-15.
^ a b Overbye, Dennis (June 20, 2013). "Kenneth Wilson, Nobel
Physicist, Dies at 77". NY Times.
^ "Physics Nobel laureate Kenneth Wilson dies". Cornell Chronicle.
June 18, 2013.
^ Kadanoff, L. P. (2013). "Kenneth Geddes Wilson (1936–2013)
Nobel-prizewinning physicist who revolutionized theoretical science".
Nature. 500 (7460): 30. Bibcode:2013Natur.500...30K.
^ Wilson, K. G. (1971). "
Renormalization Group and Critical Phenomena.
Renormalization Group and the Kadanoff Scaling Picture". Physical
Review B. 4 (9): 3174. Bibcode:1971PhRvB...4.3174W.
^ Wilson, K. (1971). "
Renormalization Group and Critical Phenomena.
II. Phase-Space Cell Analysis of Critical Behavior". Physical Review
B. 4 (9): 3184. Bibcode:1971PhRvB...4.3184W.
^ Wilson, K. G.; Fisher, M. (1972). "Critical exponents in 3.99
dimensions". Physical Review Letters. 28: 240.
^ Wilson, K. (1975). "The renormalization group: Critical phenomena
and the Kondo problem". Reviews of Modern Physics. 47 (4): 773.
^ Wilson, K. G. Non-lagrangian models in current algebra Physical
Review, 179, 1969, p. 1499–1512 ; Model of coupling
constant renormalisation, Physical Review D, 2, 1970,
p. 1438–1472; Wilson, K. G., Operator product expansions and
anomalous dimensions in Thirring model, ibid., p. 1473–77;
Anomalous dimensions and breakdown of scale invariance in perturbation
theory, ibid. p. 1478–93; Wilson, K. (1971). "Renormalization
Group and Strong Interactions". Physical Review D. 3 (8): 1818.
Bibcode:1971PhRvD...3.1818W. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.3.1818. ;
Wilson, K. G. (1973). "Quantum Field - Theory Models in Less Than 4
Dimensions". Physical Review D. 7 (10): 2911.
^ Wilson, K. G.:Problems in physics with many scales of length,
Scientific American, August 1979 "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from
the original (PDF) on 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2013-06-18.
^ Wilson, K. (1974). "Confinement of quarks". Physical Review D. 10
(8): 2445. Bibcode:1974PhRvD..10.2445W.
^ Ginsparg, P.; Wilson, K. (1982). "A remnant of chiral symmetry on
the lattice". Physical Review D. 25 (10): 2649.
Photograph, Biography and Bibliographic Resources, from the Office of
Scientific and Technical Information,
United States Department of
Kenneth G. Wilson
Kenneth G. Wilson's Homepage (on Archive, the original at Ohio State
University no longer exists) at the
Wayback Machine (archived July 3,
Kenneth G. Wilson's brief CV, from
Ohio State University
Ohio State University (PDF file)
Publications on ArXiv
Wilson's Nobel Lecture
Interview with Ken Wilson in 2002
Kadanoff, Leo P. (29 Jun 2013). "Kenneth Geddes Wilson, 1936-2013, An
Appreciation". Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and
Experiment. 2013: P10016. arXiv:1307.0152 .
Cardy, John (8 August 2013). "The Legacy of Ken Wilson". Journal of
Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment. 2013: P10002.
arXiv:1308.1785 . Bibcode:2013JSMTE..10..002C.
Laureates of the
Wolf Prize in Physics
Chien-Shiung Wu (1978)
George Uhlenbeck /
Giuseppe Occhialini (1979)
Michael Fisher /
Leo Kadanoff /
Kenneth G. Wilson (1980)
Freeman Dyson / Gerardus 't Hooft / Victor Weisskopf (1981)
Leon M. Lederman
Leon M. Lederman /
Martin Lewis Perl (1982)
Erwin Hahn /
Peter Hirsch /
Theodore Maiman (1983–84)
Conyers Herring /
Philippe Nozières (1984–85)
Mitchell Feigenbaum /
Albert J. Libchaber (1986)
Herbert Friedman /
Bruno Rossi /
Riccardo Giacconi (1987)
Roger Penrose /
Stephen Hawking (1988)
Pierre-Gilles de Gennes /
David J. Thouless
David J. Thouless (1990)
Maurice Goldhaber /
Valentine Telegdi (1991)
Joseph H. Taylor Jr. (1992)
Benoît Mandelbrot (1993)
Vitaly Ginzburg /
Yoichiro Nambu (1994–95)
John Wheeler (1996–97)
Yakir Aharonov / Michael Berry (1998)
Dan Shechtman (1999)
Raymond Davis Jr.
Raymond Davis Jr. /
Masatoshi Koshiba (2000)
Bertrand Halperin / Anthony Leggett (2002–03)
Robert Brout /
François Englert /
Peter Higgs (2004)
Daniel Kleppner (2005)
Albert Fert /
Peter Grünberg (2006–07)
John F. Clauser /
Alain Aspect /
Anton Zeilinger (2010)
Maximilian Haider /
Harald Rose /
Knut Urban (2011)
Jacob Bekenstein (2012)
Peter Zoller / Juan Ignacio Cirac (2013)
James D. Bjorken / Robert P. Kirshner (2015)
Yoseph Imry (2016)
Michel Mayor /
Didier Queloz (2017)
Charles H. Bennett /
Gilles Brassard (2018)
Laureates of the Nobel Prize in Physics
1902 Lorentz / Zeeman
1903 Becquerel / P. Curie / M. Curie
1906 J. J. Thomson
1909 Marconi / Braun
1910 Van der Waals
1913 Kamerlingh Onnes
1915 W. L. Bragg / W. H. Bragg
1922 N. Bohr
1924 M. Siegbahn
1925 Franck / Hertz
1927 Compton / C. Wilson
1928 O. Richardson
1929 De Broglie
1933 Schrödinger / Dirac
1936 Hess / C. D. Anderson
1937 Davisson / G. P. Thomson
1951 Cockcroft / Walton
1952 Bloch / Purcell
1954 Born / Bothe
1955 Lamb / Kusch
1956 Shockley / Bardeen / Brattain
1957 C. N. Yang / T. D. Lee
1958 Cherenkov / Frank / Tamm
1959 Segrè / Chamberlain
1961 Hofstadter / Mössbauer
1963 Wigner / Goeppert-Mayer / Jensen
1964 Townes / Basov / Prokhorov
1965 Tomonaga / Schwinger / Feynman
1970 Alfvén / Néel
1972 Bardeen / Cooper / Schrieffer
1973 Esaki / Giaever / Josephson
1974 Ryle / Hewish
1975 A. Bohr / Mottelson / Rainwater
1976 Richter / Ting
1977 P. W. Anderson / Mott / Van Vleck
1978 Kapitsa / Penzias / R. Wilson
1979 Glashow / Salam / Weinberg
1980 Cronin / Fitch
1981 Bloembergen / Schawlow / K. Siegbahn
1982 K. Wilson
1983 Chandrasekhar / Fowler
1984 Rubbia / Van der Meer
1985 von Klitzing
1986 Ruska / Binnig / Rohrer
1987 Bednorz / Müller
1988 Lederman / Schwartz / Steinberger
1989 Ramsey / Dehmelt / Paul
1990 Friedman / Kendall / R. Taylor
1991 de Gennes
1993 Hulse / J. Taylor
1994 Brockhouse / Shull
1995 Perl / Reines
1996 D. Lee / Osheroff / R. Richardson
1997 Chu / Cohen-Tannoudji / Phillips
1998 Laughlin / Störmer / Tsui
1999 't Hooft / Veltman
2000 Alferov / Kroemer / Kilby
2001 Cornell / Ketterle / Wieman
2002 Davis / Koshiba / Giacconi
2003 Abrikosov / Ginzburg / Leggett
2004 Gross / Politzer / Wilczek
2005 Glauber / Hall / Hänsch
2006 Mather / Smoot
2007 Fert / Grünberg
2008 Nambu / Kobayashi / Maskawa
2009 Kao / Boyle / Smith
2010 Geim / Novoselov
2011 Perlmutter / Riess / Schmidt
2012 Wineland / Haroche
2013 Englert / Higgs
2014 Akasaki / Amano / Nakamura
2015 Kajita / McDonald
2016 Thouless / Haldane / Kosterlitz
2017 Weiss / Barish / Thorne
ISNI: 0000 0001 0858 335X
BNF: cb123917349 (data)