|APRIL / MAY 1997|
Laureates add energy, prestige to FSU faculty
By John S. Cole FSU Communications Group
Few Southeastern schools can boast of even one Nobel laureate on the faculty.
Florida State University has had five.
With less than 50 years of graduate science programs under its belt, FSU has already hired more Nobel Prize winners than any other college or university in the Southeast, according to Dr. Steve Edwards, FSU's dean of the faculties.
Since 1947, five Nobel laureates a chemist, a medical physiologist, an economist and two physicists have brought their creativity, knowledge and talents to FSU.
Their presence has done wonders to strengthen and expand not only FSU's science programs but its overall standing in the academic community.
"Having Nobel laureates has multiple advantages," said Donald Foss, dean of Arts and Sciences. "They bring a tremendous amount of energy and intelligence to the campus and to the colleagues with whom they work. That helps to energize the university."
FSU's first such Nobel-inspired excitement came in the winter of 1966, when chemistry professor Robert S. Mulliken won the prize in chemistry.
Mulliken, whose work focused on how molecules interact with one another, was originally a physics professor at the University of Chicago, where he actually did the research that earned him his prize.
But a year before he was chosen for the honor, Mulliken took a position at FSU as a Distinguished Research Professor of Chemical Physics, splitting his academic year between FSU and Chicago.
"It was during one of the winter quarters that he was in residence here that he was given the nobel prize," said Edwards. "So we had a big celebration."
About five years later, the university utterly rejoiced over the hiring of its second Nobel laureate, Paul A.M. Dirac, known internationally as the father of modern physics.
Dirac, co-winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize in physics, joined FSU's faculty in 1971. A pioneer in the field of quantum mechanics, he had recently reached England's mandatory retirement age, 65, forcing him to leave Cambridge University where he had been a Lucasian professor of mathematics - the same academic chair once held by Sir Isaac Newton.
Dirac came to the United States in hopes that he could continue teaching. At the time, FSU was trying to get a grant from the National Science Foundation to accelerate development in the sciences.
"We were trying to find a star to impress the governor (Claude Kirk Jr.)," said Steve Edwards.
The science administrators immediately thought of Dirac, the greatest scientific mind since Albert Einstein. They had hoped to entice him to come spend a month or more in a special, rotating position created through the NSF grant.
"We invited him to visit and give a talk, and he liked it here," Edwards said. "So we said, what about coming here for a year?"
Dirac, who said Tallahassee reminded him of England, readily agreed. Soon after, he accepted a permanent position in the physics department.
"It was a new life for him, and it had a tremendous effect on our university and our physics department."
Dirac's lectures drew audiences from miles around, and his presence drew graduate students from around the world.
No other laureate since Dirac has garnered that kind of attention, but all have added to FSU's growing prestige.
FSU's other Nobel laureates are:
·Dr. Konrad E. Bloch, co-recipient of the 1964 Nobel Prize in medical physiology "for discoveries concerning the mechanism and regulation of the cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism." Bloch was an eminent scholar in the Department of Human Sciences in 1988.
·Dr. James Buchanan, who taught at FSU from 1951 to 1956. Buchanan won the 1986 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science for "his development of the contractual and constitutional bases for the (Public Choice) theory of economic and political decision-making." In other words, noted one political analyst, he showed how politicians and bureaucrats act in their own self-interest just the way everybody else does.
·Dr. J. Robert Schrieffer, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1972 for his work in developing the theory of superconductivity. He is head scientist at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
Schrieffer, the sole laureate currently on the faculty, was recently appointed by President Clinton to serve on the Committee on the National Medal of Science. The committee was created to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering.
But more important to FSU is the influence of the laureates on their students, some of whom may one day win their own Nobel prizes.
"We would love it if one of our graduates won the Nobel prize," said Foss of Arts and Sciences, "and it will happen. I'm sure it will happen at some point."
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Copyright @ 1997 Florida State Times