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History professor wins Guggenheim Fellowship for work on UI physicist

Matt Hanley, News Bureau
(217) 244-0470;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — University of Illinois history professor Lillian Hoddeson has been selected to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, an annual award that recognizes outstanding accomplishments and future potential for achievement.

Hoddeson was nominated for her work chronicling the life and science of physicist John Bardeen, a two-time Nobel Prize winner and UI professor of physics and of electrical engineering from 1951 until his death in 1991.  Bardeen won his first Nobel Prize in 1956 for the invention of the transistor – a fundamental component of many products in the information age – and his second in 1972 for the theory of superconductivity. 

“While [the superconductivity theory] doesn’t have the same ramifications for technology,” Hoddeson said, “in the world of physics it is an even greater discovery.”

Despite his monumental accomplishments, Bardeen is not as well known as other scientists.

“I began to wonder why no one had ever heard of John Bardeen,” Hoddeson said.  “What I’ve decided is that he doesn’t fit the popular image of a genius.  He wasn’t interested in appearing anything but ordinary.”

Hoddeson’s book, which she is co-writing with UI graduate student Vicki Daitch, is tentatively titled “True Genius:  The Life and Science of John Bardeen.”

Although trained as a physicist, Hoddeson, who also is a senior research physicist at the UI, considers herself a “historian of science.”  She also is a historian for the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill.

Begun in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has awarded more than $192 million to nearly 15,000 people for their exceptional work.  From the more than 2,900 applicants this year, 182 artists, scholars and scientists were chosen to receive awards totaling $6,345,000.