John Robert Schrieffer

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Oak Park, Illinois
Birth Sign
Oak Park, Illinois

John Robert Schrieffer is an American physicist who co-developed the BCS theory with John Bardeen and Leon N Cooper. It was the first successfully developed and widely accepted theory of superconductivity. This scientific achievement earned the three 1972 ‘Nobel Prizes in Physics.’ He was still a graduate student at the University of Illinois studying under John Bardeen when he collaborated with Bardeen and Cooper to develop, elucidate, and publish the BCS theory of superconductivity, an acronym formed by combining the initial letters of the developers’ surnames, namely Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer, in that order. He contributed in explaining why metals lose their electrical resistance at extremely low temperatures. He also contributed to the development of another theory relating to superconductivity at elevated temperatures. He remained an academician for decades, teaching in a variety of universities at various points in time. Among them are the ‘University of Chicago’; the ‘University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; the ‘University of Illinois’; the ‘University of California in Santa Barbara; the ‘Florida State University; and the ‘Cornell University. He was appointed Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and Mary Amanda Wood Professor of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He was the recipient of numerous honors and prizes, including the ‘Guggenheim Fellowship’, the ‘Comstock Prize in Physics (1968), and the ‘National Medal of Science’ (1983). Despite his popularity and accomplishments, he was sentenced to two years in prison for vehicular manslaughter after losing control of his vehicle and colliding with another, killing the driver and wounding seven others. He served his time at the ‘Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility at Rock Mountain, California, not far from San Diego.

Childhood & Adolescence

He was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on May 31, 1931, to John H. Schrieffer and Louise Anderson.
In 1940, his family relocated to Manhasset, New York.
The family relocated to Florida in 1947, where his father entered the citrus sector as an orange plantation owner.
Schrieffer graduated from ‘Eustis High School’ in Eustis, Florida, in 1949.

He subsequently traveled to Massachusetts, where he enrolled in the ‘Massachusetts Institute of Technology’ (‘MIT’) to study electrical engineering. After two years of majoring in electrical engineering, he moved to physics in his third year. He earned a BS in Physics from the institute in 1953 after completing a thesis on multiplets in heavy atoms under the supervision of eminent American physicist John C. Slater.

John Robert’s Career

His interest in solid-state physics brought him to the ‘University of Illinois’ at Urbana-Champaign to pursue graduate studies. He was soon hired as a research assistant in John Bardeen’s laboratory.
He first focussed his efforts at Bardeen’s lab on a theoretical problem involving electrical conduction on semiconductor surfaces. He then spent the next year applying this theory to a variety of surface problems.

In 1956, during his third year of graduate studies, he began working with Bardeen and Cooper on formulating the theory of superconductivity. Cooper, who was also working as an assistant in Bardeen’s lab at the time, discovered that electrons, which normally repel one another, could couple up at extremely low-temperature settings. Cooper pairs are a term that refers to this concept. When the temperature exceeds absolute zero, the Cooper pair splits.

Following his discovery of Cooper, Schrieffer set out to develop a mathematical description of the Cooper pairs’ behavior. His mathematical breakthrough occurred in early 1957 when he created the fundamental equations. Later that year, the ‘BCS’ theory was finished and announced.

He received his doctorate from the ‘University of Illinois’ at Urbana-Champaign in 1957. His doctoral dissertation contained theoretical research on superconductivity.
Between 1957 and 1958, he was a ‘National Science Foundation fellow at England’s ‘University of Birmingham. In 1958, he remained a scholar at Copenhagen’s ‘Niels Bohr Institute’, ‘The University of Copenhagen’. At both of these locations, he expanded his studies on superconductivity.

In 1958, he accepted a position as an assistant professor at the ‘University of Chicago.’
He returned to Illinois in 1959 to teach at the ‘University of Illinois’.

He joined the faculty of ‘The University of Pennsylvania’ in 1962. In 1964, he was appointed Mary Amanda Wood Professor of Physics at the university. That year, he wrote a book named ‘Theory of Superconductivity’ on BCS theory.

He was the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at ‘Cornell University from 1969 until 1975.
In 1980, he accepted a position as a professor at the ‘University of California, Santa Barbara. His career at the university progressed gradually, culminating in his appointment as chancellor professor in 1984. He was also appointed director of the university’s ‘Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics that year. He served in both capacities until 1992.

In 1992, ‘Florida State University admitted him as an outstanding scholar professor. He was also named Chief Scientist of the university’s ‘National High Magnetic Field Laboratory,’ which performs research in magnetic fields in physics, chemistry, biology, biochemistry, geochemistry, and bioengineering. It is the only such research facility in the United States.

He retired in 2006 and has focused his latest research on high-temperature superconductivity, strongly correlated electrons, and electron dynamics in strong magnetic fields.

He received honorary degrees from American universities such as the ‘University of Cincinnati,’ the ‘University of Pennsylvania,’ and the ‘University of Illinois,’ as well as from foreign universities such as the ‘University of Geneva,’ in Switzerland; the ‘Technical University of Munich,’ in Germany; and the ‘Tel Aviv University,’ in Israel.

He is a member of a number of eminent scientific academies, including the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences,’ the ‘American Philosophical Society,’ the ‘National Academy of Sciences,’ and the ‘Royal Danish Academy of Sciences,’ and the Russian Academy of Sciences.’

He also served as president of the ‘American Physical Society’ and as chair of the Scientific Council of the ‘International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy.

Awards and Accomplishments

He shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physics with eminent physicists John Bardeen and Leon N Cooper.

Personal History and Legacies

At Christmas 1960, he married Anne Grete Thomsen. They have three children: two daughters named Bolette and Regina, and a son named Paul.

On September 24, 2004, while driving from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, he was engaged in an accident near Orcutt, California, when his car collided with another vehicle, killing 57-year-old Renato Catolos and injuring seven others. Schrieffer’s driver’s license was suspended at the time. He was traveling at a speed of more than 100 mph when he lost control, culminating in the collision.

He was sentenced to two years in prison on November 6, 2005, for vehicular manslaughter, to which he pled not guilty. He was imprisoned at the ‘Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility’ outside San Diego, California.

Estimated Net worth