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Celebrating the ‘Standard Model’ of particle physics

More than a half-dozen Nobel Prize winners coming to Case Western Reserve campus to mark 50 years since seminal theory began to emerge

Every October, the world’s largest and most prestigious group of physicists gathers in Stockholm, Sweden, to honor those among their ranks who will join a century-old pantheon of Nobel Prize winners.

This June, Cleveland could give Stockholm a run for its Nobel presence.

As many as eight former winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics are expected on the Case Western Reserve University campus to mark the 50th anniversary of the Standard Model of Physics. That foundational theoretical model coalesced in 1967-68 and has gradually become accepted as the best explanation of all matter and how it holds together.

An array of speakers at the June 1-4 symposium, “The Standard Model at 50,” will provide a broad retrospective and forward-looking view of the theory. A free public lecture by 2004 Nobel Prize winner David Gross,  titled “The Standard Model and Beyond,” will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 3, in the Tinkham Veale University Center. Tickets are not required for this event, but attendees are requested to register online.

The list includes 1979 Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, whose 1967 paper, “A Model of Leptons,” is considered a cornerstone of the Standard Model and remains the second most cited paper among  all physics papers in the last half-century.

“We know that the Standard Model is correct—but with limitations,” said Weinberg, from his office at the University of Texas, where he still teaches physics and astronomy. He’ll give the concluding talk at the symposium.

“In the years after I wrote my first paper, people thought it would fall into place and be resolved quickly,” he said. “But astronomers tell us that five-sixths of the universe is dark matter that doesn’t interact with light, and that’s left out of the Standard Model, so we’ve still got a ways to go.”

A ‘who’s who of physics’

Several other contributors to the Standard Model in its present state are expected at the symposium, including:

starkman-feat“It’s a pretty amazing group of men and women who have contributed immeasurably to our understanding of the world—and they’ll all be right here,” said Glenn Starkman, Distinguished University Professor and professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve.

Starkman, director of both the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics and the Institute of the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve, directed planning for the event and also will speak Sunday, June 3, on “Core Theory Cosmology.”

The symposium will be held in the Tinkham Veale University Center with a reception planned for Sunday evening, June 3, at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  Those wishing to attend the full conference should register in advance at the conference website.

The public is invited to 2004 Nobel Prize winner David Gross‘ lecture titled “The Standard Model and Beyond” at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 3, in the Tinkham Veale University Center.  No tickets are required, but attendees are requested to register online.

Gross,  a leading string theorist, is credited along with colleagues Frank Wilczek and David Politzer, for their studies of quantum chromodynamics, a component of the Standard Model responsible for binding the fundamental particles known as quarks into protons and neutrons.

“What does this outstandingly successful model teach us about nature, and how, when and why do we hope to discover physics beyond it?” Gross asks in an abstract of his talk.

What is the “Standard Model?”

The Standard Model—“a dull name for the most accurate scientific theory known to humans,” as Starkman called it in a recent essay—forms the underpinning for much of modern science.

The theory essentially details the three basic forces of particle physics—the electromagnetic force, the weak force and the strong force.

That includes the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle, sometimes called the “God particle.” That long-hoped-for event garnered widespread media coverage and became one of those moments when the complicated science of physics intersected with a mostly science-challenged public, Starkman said.

But as Starkman points out, the Standard Model itself still has a bit of a branding problem.

“A lot of people don’t realize how important the Standard Model is,” he said, “until something like Higgs boson grabs their attention. We hope to show just how vital it has been for half a century.”

For more information, contact Mike Scott at

This article was originally published May 15, 2018.