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Physics building designated site of historic significance by APS

James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
217-244-1073; kloeppel@illinois.edu

Released 10/2/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — To commemorate the pioneering work of University of Illinois researchers in understanding the mechanism of superconductivity, the American Physical Society is designating the old Physics Building, 1304 W. Green St., Urbana, as a site of historic significance to physics.

Leo Kadanoff, president of the APS, and former U. of I. faculty member, will present a bronze plaque to U. of I. Chancellor Richard Herman during a ceremony to take place at 5 p.m. Oct. 11 (Thursday) in the auditorium of the Beckman Institute, 405 N. Mathews Ave., Urbana. The ceremony is open to the public, but seating is limited.

“The designation of the old Physics Building as a National Historic Physics Site by the APS is a singular honor to the university,” said Gordon Baym, the George and Ann Fisher Distinguished Professor of Engineering, and a Center for Advanced Study Professor of Physics. “In this building physicist John Bardeen, postdoc Leon Cooper, and graduate student J. Robert Schrieffer created the BCS theory of superconductivity, for which they were awarded the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physics.”

Superconductivity, the complete loss of electrical resistance in some materials, occurs at temperatures near absolute zero. First observed in 1911 by Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, the mechanism of superconductivity remained unexplained until 1957, when Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer determined that electrons, which are normally repulsive, could form pairs and move in concert in superconducting materials below a certain critical temperature.

The Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer (BCS) theory has been hailed as one of the greatest discoveries in theoretical physics in the 20th century, Baym said. The theory has influenced essentially all areas of physics, from the structure of atomic nuclei to the cores of neutron stars. BCS provided the first analytical solution to the problem of superconductivity.

The old Physics Building is the 12th historic site in the U.S. to be honored by the APS. Other sites include the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, in recognition of Benjamin Franklin’s pioneering work in electricity; The Johns Hopkins University, where Henry Rowland revolutionized spectroscopy with his ruled gratings; and Washington University in St. Louis, where Arthur Compton conducted his famous X-ray scattering experiment.

Completed in 1909 at a cost of $220,000, the Physics Building was the home of the physics department until 1959, when the department moved to the “New Physics Building” (named Loomis Laboratory of Physics in 1980 to honor long-time department head F. Wheeler Loomis). The older Physics Building currently houses the materials science and engineering department.

Before joining the U. of I. faculty in 1951, Bardeen had completed at Bell Laboratories the research on semiconductors that led to the invention of the transistor. For this work, Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley were awarded a Nobel Prize in 1956. Bardeen died on Jan. 30, 1991.

Founded in 1899 to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics, the APS has more than 48,000 members.