Distinguished Senior Scientist Nicholas Samios, former Laboratory Director
and Director of the RIKEN BNL Research Center at the U.S.
Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been chosen
by the World Federation of Scientists (WFS) as the recipient of the 2009 Gian
Carlo Wick Gold Medal Award, which is given annually to a theoretical physicist
for outstanding contributions to particle physics. Samios was cited "for his
visionary role in the successful construction of the Relativistic Heavy Ion
Collider (RHIC), and for his intellectual leadership in a series of remarkable
experimental discoveries which established the existence of Quark Gluon Plasma
(QGP), a new phase of strongly interacting nuclear matter."
"I am honored to be the recipient of this award and particularly pleased
to be recognized for my efforts towards the successful construction, utilization,
and physics productivity of RHIC," Samios said. "I must also acknowledge
the major influence of the pioneering work of T.D. Lee and Gian Carlo Wick,
who explored the structure of matter under extreme conditions of temperature
and density, which greatly motivated the RHIC project," Samios said.
Said Brookhaven National Laboratory Director Samuel Aronson, "The stunning
findings from RHIC have presented us with some challenges and surprises, the
foremost being that the matter we've created appears to behave more like
a liquid than the gas we had expected. Nick's vision in designing such
a versatile machine has enabled a detailed exploration of the properties of
this unique form of matter, and an equally compelling investigation of another
scientific mystery — the origin of proton spin."
RHIC began operation in 2000, following ten years of development and construction.
Hundreds of physicists from around the world use RHIC to study what the universe
may have looked like in the first few moments after its creation. RHIC drives
two intersecting beams of gold ions, gold atoms stripped of their electrons,
into head-on subatomic collisions to learn about the forces that hold matter
together — from the smallest subatomic particles to the largest stars.
RHIC also collides beams of polarized protons to find out more about the property
of spin, as intrinsic and important to a particle's identity as its mass
Samios first came to Brookhaven Lab as a summer student in 1952, and joined
the Physics Department as an assistant physicist in 1959. Serving as Physics
Chair, 1975-81, Deputy Director for High Energy & Nuclear Physics, 1981-82,
and Laboratory Director, 1982-97, he was the person with ultimate responsibility
for building RHIC.
"Nick understood the various theoretical conjectures motivating such
a facility, and brought together various elements of the theoretical and experimental
physics communities, as well as those involved in accelerator design, insisting
on a flexible design for the machine so that it could produce ion-ion collisions
at a range of energies, as well as proton-proton and proton-ion collisions,"
Aronson said. "Under his leadership, together with the then Associate
Lab Director for High Energy & Nuclear Physics, Mel Schwartz, he also brought
together the vision of a suite of overlapping yet complementary detectors at
The versatility of the accelerator concept and the diversity of the experiments
proved to be essential for the present success and future potential of the RHIC
Data collected and analyzed over nine years of operations from collisions of
various species of ions over a broad range of energies clearly support the case
that RHIC's gold-gold collisions are routinely producing a freely flowing
liquid composed of quarks and gluons – the subatomic constituents of protons
and neutrons. Such a substance, often referred to as quark-gluon plasma, last
existed just after the dawn of the universe some 13 billion years ago. At early
times in RHIC collisions of large nuclei, this matter has an energy density
much greater than that inside a proton. The matter is so strongly interacting
that it becomes nearly opaque to high-energy quarks passing through it. Its
viscosity is so low it is believed to be near the predicted quantum limit, making
the matter produced at RHIC the most nearly "perfect" liquid ever
The accelerator and detector capabilities at RHIC are currently being upgraded
to enhance the facility's potential for further discoveries. Among the
promising scientific leads being pursued are: the possibility that cold nuclear
matter attains an as yet undiscovered universal form under the conditions of
very high gluon density that control the earliest stages of RHIC collisions;
the possible existence within RHIC's region of accessibility of a unique
nuclear matter "critical point" akin to the one where ice, water
and steam can coexist; hints that certain fundamental symmetries of nature may
be violated at the extreme temperatures reached in RHIC collisions and in the
early universe; and possible solutions to the puzzle of how the proton spin
arises from its quarks and gluons.
"The versatility and flexibility of the RHIC facility, conceived under
the leadership of Nick Samios, position us well to continue our explorations
into these exciting areas of physics," concluded Aronson. "It's
especially satisfying to celebrate this recognition of Nick's accomplishments
as we embark on this new frontier."
Nicholas Samios received his B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from Columbia
University in 1953 and 1957, respectively. As a Brookhaven researcher from 1959,
Samios made many of the particle discoveries that have helped define and lead
to the acceptance of the "Standard Model" of particle physics, the
accepted theory that explains known particle interactions. In particular, he
is noted for the discovery of the phi meson and the omega minus hyperon, crucial
elements delineating the symmetry of hadrons, which ultimately led to the quark
model of elementary particles, a pillar of the Standard Model.
Samios also made significant contributions through a decade-long study of neutrino
interactions, both at BNL and at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. These
studies included the discovery of the charmed lambda – the first charmed
baryon observed — and early measurements of neutrino electron elastic
scattering and limits on neutrino oscillations. A Distinguished Senior Scientist
since 1997, he became Deputy Director of the RIKEN/BNL Research Center (RBRC)
in 1998, and RBRC Director in 2003. RBRC is a research center at BNL funded
primarily by the Japanese RIKEN Laboratory to explore both the theoretical and
experimental physics potential of RHIC. Samios also held the position of adjunct
professor in Columbia's Physics Department, 1970-95.
Samios' many honors include the 1980 E.O. Lawrence Memorial Award, the 1980
New York Academy of Sciences Award in Physical & Mathematical Sciences,
the 1993 W.K.H. Panofsky Prize, and the 2001 Bruno Pontecorvo Prize of the Joint
Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia. He was elected to the National
Academy of Sciences in 1982 and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society,
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, and the Akademia Athenon.