Mathematical physicist honored “for seminal contributions to nonequilibrium and equilibrium statistical mechanics”
WASHINGTON, October 7, 2020 — The American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society announce Joel Lebowitz, director of the Center for Mathematical Sciences Research at Rutgers University, as the recipient of the 2021 Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics. The award is given annually to recognize significant contributions to the field.
“It gives me pleasure to receive the Heineman Prize, and I hope it encourages others to pursue this field,” said Lebowitz, who cites his Brooklyn College teacher, Melba Phillips, and his Syracuse University thesis advisor, Peter Bergmann, as early influencers in his career.
“We are excited to present this year’s Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics to Dr. Joel L. Lebowitz,” said Michael Moloney, CEO of AIP. “His distinguished international career for six decades made a tremendous impact in the field of statistical mechanics and mathematical physics. We at AIP congratulate him on this win.”
The citation on the award reads: “for seminal contributions to nonequilibrium and equilibrium statistical mechanics, in particular, studies of large deviations in nonequilibrium steady states and rigorous analysis of Gibbs equilibrium ensembles.”
A native of Taceva in the former Czechoslovakia (now in Ukraine), Lebowitz was deported with his family to the Auschwitz concentration camp in May 1944. He was liberated one year later and moved to the United States, where he began his high school education at Yeshiva Torah Vodath in Brooklyn, New York.
“[Phillips and Bergmann] were both humanist scientists, caring about people and social justice,” Lebowitz said. “As a college senior, I took a reading course with Phillips based on a book on statistical mechanics that was written by Bergmann, which led to my going to Syracuse to do my thesis with him.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College and master’s and doctorate degrees from Syracuse University, Lebowitz became a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, where his mentor was Lars Onsager.
He worked at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey, and Yeshiva University, in New York City, before joining Rutgers University in 1977, a position he currently holds.
Lebowitz was nominated for the Heineman Award by Elliott Lieb, an American mathematical physicist and professor of mathematics and physics at Princeton University who specializes in statistical mechanics, condensed matter theory, and functional analysis.
Lebowitz and Lieb worked together to prove “the existence of thermodynamics for ordinary matter with Coulomb interactions,” the force between two electrically charged particles. It is an accomplishment that Lebowitz said was the most exciting moment of his career.
His work in nonequlibrium statistical mechanics investigates “how macroscopic systems, ranging in size and nature from living cells to galaxies, behave dynamically,” he said.
“Everything alive or active is in a nonequilibrium state. Statistical mechanics tries to understand the properties of such systems in terms of the properties of their microscopic constituents. This leads to difficult mathematical problems, most of which are still unresolved at the present time.”
Lebowitz became the editor in chief of the Journal of Statistical Physics in 1975, a position he held for 43 years. He also was editor/co-editor of the Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences, Collective Phenomena, for 12 years. He has received many well-deserved awards during his career, including, most recently, the “Grande Médaille” from the French Academy of Sciences in 2014.
In addition to his accomplished career as a researcher and published author of work in mathematical physics, Lebowitz is also involved in human rights work. Citing his time as an inmate in a Nazi concentration camp, he believes scientists “can and should strive to have a positive influence.”
“By actively protesting against violations of human rights, in particular those of scientists, students, scholars, etc.” he said. “They should join organizations like the Committee of Concerned Scientists, devoted to the defense of such people. I am a co-chair of that organization.”
His current interests are in problems of nonequilibrium statistical mechanics, a field mentioned in the citation for the Heineman Award.
“I am working on several problems in nonequilibrium involving heat conduction and entropy production in systems in contact with several heat reservoirs at different temperatures,” Lebowitz said. “Problems quite close to what I worked on in my thesis about 65 years ago.”
Once a mathematical physics researcher, always a mathematical physics researcher.
ABOUT THE HEINEMAN PRIZE
The Heineman Prize is named after Dannie N. Heineman, an engineer, business executive, and philanthropic sponsor of the sciences. The prize was established in 1959 by the Heineman Foundation for Research, Education, Charitable and Scientific Purposes, Inc. The prize will be presented by AIP and APS on behalf of the Heineman Foundation at a future APS meeting. A special ceremonial session will be held during the meeting, when Lebowitz will receive the $10,000 prize. http://www.
ABOUT AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF PHYSICS
The American Institute of Physics advances, promotes and serves the physical sciences for the benefit of humanity. AIP offers authoritative information, services, and expertise in physics education and student programs, science communication, government relations, career services for science and engineering professionals, statistical research in physics employment and education, industrial outreach, and the history of physics and allied fields. http://www.
ABOUT AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
The American Physical Society is a non-profit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. APS represents over 53,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories and industry in the United States and throughout the world. Society offices are in College Park, Maryland (Headquarters), Ridge, New York, and Washington, DC.