Is it possible to reconcile religion and science? This age-old conundrum has perplexed many a great mind, but not Cyril Domb. The theoretical physicist best known for his research on phase transitions and critical phenomena in fluids was also a devout orthodox Jew. He was tutored in Jewish studies as a child, and religion became a significant part of his life. A brilliant child, he had always been fascinated by mathematics and possessed an exceptional memory. He attended college on a scholarship and eventually became a theoretical physics professor. As a scientist and a devout Jew, he founded the British Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. Although he is best known for his writings on Phase Transitions and Critical Phenomena, he was equally committed to demonstrating to the world that science and religion do not have to be mutually exclusive. Religion was never opposed to science, and he wrote extensively on reconciling apparent contradictions between science and Judaism. He spent the majority of his life as a professor and was adored and respected by his students.
Childhood & Adolescence
He was born into a Hasidic Jewish family in North London. Yoel’s father was from Warsaw, and Sarah was of Polish ancestry. He was given the Hebrew name Yechiel at birth.
He was educated in classical Jewish studies from an early age and also attended Torah classes in a synagogue. He was also profoundly inspired by his religious grandparents.
He studied mathematics at Hackney Downs secondary school, where he excelled. F.J. Swann, his teacher, recognized his brilliance and assisted him by providing advanced mathematics books.
His teacher encouraged him to apply for a Cambridge scholarship.
He was appointed to a fellowship at Pembroke College in October 1938. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1941.
Career of Cyril
He joined the Admiralty Signal Establishment in Portsmouth following graduation as a member of the radar research group.
Until then, radar systems could detect enemy aircraft approaching but not their height. Domb and his colleagues devised a method for determining the height as well.
He decided to continue his studies and enrolled in Cambridge’s mathematics department; by this time, theoretical physics had been added to the department.
He immersed himself in research, beginning with particle counter statistics.
He developed a strong interest in lattice dynamics and statistical mechanics during his time at Pembroke. Fred Hoyle had taken on the role of supervisor for his doctoral dissertation.
Domb earned his doctorate in 1949 with a dissertation titled “Order-Disorder Statistics.”
In the late 1940s, he assisted in the establishment of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. The Organization is committed to integrating science and Orthodox Jewish tradition. It is a gathering place for intellectuals and religious believers.
He began his career as a university lecturer in mathematics at Cambridge University in 1952 and remained there until 1954, when he accepted a position as a professor of theoretical physics at King’s College, London. He stayed until 1981.
In 1961, he wrote an article for London’s ‘Jewish Chronicle.’ Following his reading of it, the Lubavitcher Rebbe began communicating with him and encouraging him to dispel the myth that religion and science are incompatible.
Domb later collaborated with Rabbi Aryeh Carmell to publish several articles on science and religion. In 1976, a collection of these articles reconciling scientific theories with Jewish beliefs was published under the title ‘Challenge: Torah perspectives on science and its problems.’
In recognition of his contributions to the field of physics, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1977.
He co-edited the series ‘Phase Transitions and Critical Phenomena’ with Melville S. Green, a statistical physicist, in 1972. Following Green’s death, Domb continued the collaboration with Lebowitz, eventually publishing twenty volumes.
In 1981, he accepted a position as professor of physics at Bar-Ilan University, where he remained until 1989. He also served as a visiting professor at the University of Maryland, Yeshiva University, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during this time period.
He founded the academic journal ‘Journal of Torah and Scholarship’ in the 1980s, to which he contributed several articles. He was deeply religious and devoted a large portion of his free time to Talmudic studies.
Significant Works of Cyril
He co-edited the 20-volume ‘Phase transitions and critical phenomena’ series with Melville S. Green and Joel Lebowitz. This series is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative on the subject.
Awards and Accomplishments
In 1981, the German Physical Society and the British Institute of Physics jointly awarded him the prestigious Max Born Prize for his outstanding contributions to physics.
Personal History and Legacies
Since 1957, he had been married to Shirley Galinsky, with whom he had six children. He was a long-lived man who made significant contributions to science and religion through his experiments, teachings, and writings.
He died in 2012, at the age of 91, of natural causes.
Estimated Net Worth
The net worth of Cyril Domb is unknown.