Tag Archives: Physics

Jews of the Week: The Minkowskis

Three Renowned Scientists

Hermann Minkowski

Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909) was born in what is now Lithuania, then part of Russia, and previously a part of Poland, to a wealthy Jewish family. His father was a merchant who paid for the construction of the famous Kovno Synagogue. In 1872, the Minkowskis fled the persecutions of the Russian Empire and settled in Germany. Hermann Minkowski went on to study mathematics and physics. In 1883 he won the Mathematics Prize of the French Academy of Sciences. He got his PhD two years later and taught at the Universities of Bonn, Konigsberg, Gottingen, and Zurich (where he was Albert Einstein’s teacher). Minkowski solved a number of big math problems, and actually improved upon Einstein’s theory of relativity, coming up with what is now called “Minkowski space-time”. He gave the mathematical proof for unifying space and time into a singular space-time continuum. Sadly, Minkowski met an untimely death at a young age from sudden appendicitis.

Oskar Minkowksi

His older brother was Oskar Minkowski (1858-1931), who studied biology and medicine. He went on to become a professor at the University of Breslau. (Since Jews were barred from holding such positions at the time, Minkowski had to nominally convert to Christianity.) In 1889, Minkowski did a number of operations on dogs and showed the link between the pancreas and diabetes. Together with Josef von Mering, Minkowski discovered how the pancreas controlled blood sugar levels, which later led to the discovery of insulin. Today, the Minkowski Prize is awarded each year for breakthroughs in diabetes research. His son was Rudolph Minkowski (1895-1976), who studied astronomy. He did important work dealing with supernovae, and later became the head of the famed Palomar Observatory, where he discovered a number of asteroids and nebulae. He also made important contributions in astrophysics, and won the Bruce Medal in 1961 for outstanding lifetime achievement in the field. The Minkowski Crater on the moon is named after him.

Can Jewish Homes Have Christmas Trees?

Words of the Week

In God there is no time or beginning to start, for He always existed and is
everlasting and in Him there is no beginning or end at all.
Rabbi Chaim VitalEtz Chaim

Jew of the Week: Claudia Sheinbaum

Mayor of Mexico City

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo (b. 1962) was born in Mexico City to a family of Jewish immigrants. Her father is an Ashkenazi Jew of Lithuanian heritage, while her mother is a Sephardic Jew from Bulgaria. Both of her parents were respected scientists, and Sheinbaum followed in their footsteps. She studied physics and went on to earn a Ph.D in energy engineering. She did research at a US Department of Energy lab in California. In 1995, Sheinbaum became a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. A few years later, she won the prize for “young researcher in engineering and technological innovation”. Sheinbaum soon became a leading expert on climate change and the environment. She has published over 100 scientific papers and two books. In 2000, she was appointed Mexico City’s Secretary of the Environment, and served in the role for the next six years. Following this, she joined the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and did important work for the organization that helped it win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2015, Sheinbaum became the mayor of Tlalpan, one of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs. Soon after, she was nominated for mayor of all of Mexico City, and won a six-year term in 2018, easily beating out six other candidates in a landslide. Sheinbaum became the city’s first-ever Jewish mayor, and its first elected female mayor, too. Since then, she has been praised for her work in managing North America’s largest city. She has made significant strides in cleaning it up and reducing waste, fighting corruption, modernizing the transportation system, and upgrading sanitation. She has also been commended for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, she was nominated for the World Mayor prize, awarded biennially to the best city leaders on the globe. Some are already predicting her to be a strong candidate for the 2024 Mexican presidential election. Sheinbaum was included in the BBC’s 100 Women, and was recently ranked among the world’s 50 Most Influential Jews.

Words of the Week

When I find the road narrow, and can see no other way of teaching a well-established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools, I prefer to address myself to the one man, and to take no notice of the condemnation of the multitude.
– Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1138-1204), “Maimonides”, Guide for the Perplexed

Jew of the Week: Steven Weinberg

Architect of the Standard Model of Physics

Steven Weinberg

Steven Weinberg (b. 1933) was born in New York to Jewish parents of Romanian and German heritage. He studied at the Bronx High School of Science, then did his undergraduate studies in physics at Cornell. After a brief stint at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, he earned his PhD at Princeton in 1957. Weinberg first did research at Columbia University, then became a professor at UC Berkeley. While there, he started writing one of his most famous books, The Quantum Theory of Fields, as well as the popular textbook Gravitation and Cosmology. In 1966, Weinberg moved back east to teach at Harvard. The following year, as a visiting professor at MIT, he published his new model unifying electromagnetism and the nuclear forces. Part of this was proposing the existence of the Higgs boson (which was finally discovered in 2012). Weinberg’s model built on the work of his former high school classmate and fellow Jewish physicist, Sheldon Glashow. The two shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work (together with Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam). Over the years, Weinberg did research on—and greatly furthered our understanding of—gravity and cosmology, quantum physics and string theory, pions, leptons, and supersymmetry. His work has expanded nearly every aspect of modern physics and is among the most renowned scientists in the world. Weinberg has testified before Congress as an expert witness, and has written many popular articles and science books, among them The First Three Minutes and To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science. He has been awarded 11 honourary degrees together with a long list of awards including the National Medal of Science. Weinberg is also a staunch supporter of Israel and has refused to speak at universities that boycott the Jewish State. Today, as he nears his 87th birthday, he continues to write and teach physics at the University of Texas at Austin.

UPDATE: Sadly, Steven Weinberg passed away on July 23rd, 2021.

Words of the Week

Given the history of the attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicates a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than antisemitism.
– Steven Weinberg