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Segrè, Gino 1938- (Gino C. Segrè)

Segrè, Gino 1938- (Gino C. Segrè)

PERSONAL:

Born 1938, in Florence, Italy; immigrated to the United States. Education: Harvard University, A.B., 1959; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ph.D., 1963.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Physics and Astronomy, 209 S. 33rd St., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6396. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]

CAREER:

University of California, Berkeley, staff member, 1965-67; University of Pennsylvania, 1967—, became professor of physics and astronomy, department chair, 1987-92. Served as director of theoretical physics at the National Science Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Guggenheim Foundation.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Sloan Foundation fellow, 1969-71; Guggenheim Foundation fellow, 1974-75.

WRITINGS:

A Matter of Degrees: What Temperature Reveals about the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.

Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to professional journals.

SIDELIGHTS:

Gino Segrè was born in Italy and educated in the United States at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During his long academic career at the University of Pennsylvania, Segrè was chair of the department of physics and astronomy, and in 1995 he was director of theoretical physics at the National Science Foundation. According to his biographical information on the Web site of the University of Pennsylvania, Segrè's research "is directed toward a variety of problems in high-energy theoretical physics. These go from phenomenological analyses of models of electroweak interactions, with an eye to better understanding of such phenomena as CP violation and flavor-changing neutral currents, to more fundamental theories. The link between particle physics and astrophysics is another field of interest, with research ranging from baryon asymmetry to more conventional astrophysics such as pulsar kicks."

Segrè is the a author of A Matter of Degrees: What Temperature Reveals about the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe, and he begins by explaining his interest in physics, which comes from the fact that it is the "family business." Members of his family who are also physicists include his brother, wife, in-laws, cousins, and his Nobel Prize-winning uncle Emilio Segrè, who collaborated with Fermi on radioactivity research. Early in the book he provides a history of temperature, with topics that include fire making, steam power, smelting, and thermodynamics. Segrè notes that man's ability to measure temperature dates back only a few hundred years. Early scientists were more easily able to measure space and time than energy and temperature. He mentions that the four inventors of the thermometer included Galileo and his colleague Santorio, a professor of theoretical medicine who put a scale on a thermoscope, an invention that measured the change in a gas as it cooled or heated. Much of the book addresses the ice ages, global warming, and El Niño. In reviewing the volume in the New York Times Book Review, Marcia Bartusiak wrote: "Segrè has an easygoing style, sprinkled with anecdotes and history, that immediately draws you in; it is like listening to a graceful conversation. He starts with the evolution of mechanisms to maintain our bodies' steady temperature of 98.6 degrees, which leads into an engaging digression on the physics of fans. He then briefly tackles no less than the history of civilization." Segrè notes that the temperatures of other mammals are close to our own. He theorizes about the Big Bang to the possible fate of the planet and the universe, drawing on advanced concepts in astrophysics, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted "his sense of humor in good measure to balance the necessary effort readers must expend" in order to follow along.

Segrè explains how animal life has adapted to hot and cold environments, and writes that this includes the tiniest thermophiles and psychrophiles (bacteria). A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that in explaining his subject, Segrè "excels in showing its relevance to both current policy and future research."

In Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics, Segrè studies the period, during the 1920s and 1930s, when many of the most important advancements in physics occurred, a period when the study of quantum mechanics was evolving and developments in nuclear physics were leading up to the discovery of nuclear fission. He describes a Copenhagen meeting in April 1932, the centenary of the death of Goethe, which included some forty of the world's most influential physicists. Hosted by Neils Bohr, it was attended by Lise Meitner, Paul Ehrenfest, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, and others. The meeting ended with Max Delbruck's parody of Goethe's Faust, with the proponents being classical physics and the new quantum mechanics. Some of the scientists who were represented in the script were in attendance, and Segrè includes profiles of many of them, including Wolfgang Pauli, who missed that meeting. They were played by younger physicists wearing makeup and costumes, but as Segrè notes, Heisenberg, Pauli, and Dirac were in their twenties when their greatest achievements were accomplished. Bohr at forty-six was considered old, and Einstein, also absent, was already more than fifty. In the spoof god was represented by Bohr and Mephistopheles by Pauli. "They were perfect choices," commented George Johnson in the New York Times Book Review. "The avuncular Bohr, with his inquisitive needling, had presided over the quantum revolution, revealing the strange workings within atoms, while the skeptical Pauli, who famously signed his letters ‘The Scourge of God,’ could always be counted on for a sarcastic comment." Segrè also provides an account of the impact of World War II on these scientists, including several who were persecuted by the Nazis.

A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "once again applies a human scale to important physics topics in a way that's as informative and accessible as it is appealing."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Scientist, September 1, 2002, Philip Morrison, review of A Matter of Degrees: What Temperature Reveals about the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe, p. 476.

Booklist, June 1, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Matter of Degrees, p. 1657.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of A Matter of Degrees, p. 642.

Kliatt, January, 2004, Katherine Gillen, review of A Matter of Degrees, p. 36.

Library Journal, July, 2002, Gregg Sapp, review of A Matter of Degrees, p. 114; June 1, 2007, Jack W. Weigel, review of Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics, p. 143.

Nature, August 29, 2002, Vaclav Smil, review of A Matter of Degrees, p. 919.

New Humanist, July-August, 2007, Graham Farmelo, review of Faust in Copenhagen.

New Scientist, September 28, 2002, David Lindley, review of A Matter of Degrees, p. 54.

New Statesman, September 3, 2007, Brian Cathcart, review of Faust in Copenhagen, p. 48.

New York Times Book Review, August 4, 2002, Marcia Bartusiak, review of A Matter of Degrees; June 24, 2007, George Johnson, review of Faust in Copenhagen.

Physics Today, June, 2003, Peter Salamon, review of A Matter of Degrees, p. 59.

Publishers Weekly, June 17, 2002, review of A Matter of Degrees, p. 54; April 9, 2007, review of Faust in Copenhagen, p. 45.

Science News, August 17, 2002, review of A Matter of Degrees, p. 111; June 30, 2007, review of Faust in Copenhagen, p. 415.

ONLINE

Popular Science,http://www.popularscience.co.uk/ (January 5, 2008), Brian Clegg, review of A Matter of Degrees.

Telegraph Onlinehttp://www.co.uk/ (August 16, 2007), Kenan Malik, review of Faust in Copenhagen.

University of Pennsylvania Department of Physics Web site,http://www.physics.upenn.edu/ (January 5, 2008).

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