Alumnus Vernon Barger awarded 2021 Sakurai Prize

January 05, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Vernon Barger, a Penn State 1960 Eberly College of Science alumnus and current Vilas Professor and Van Vlack Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been awarded the 2021 J.J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics.

Vernon Barger, 2021 recipient of the Sakurai Prize

Vernon Barger

IMAGE: Penn State

The Sakurai Prize recognizes and encourages outstanding achievement in particle theory. In conjunction to a $10,000 prize, recipients of the award receive a travel allowance to the meeting of the society at which the prize is to be awarded, and a certificate citing the contributions made by the recipient.

This prize, now in its 36th year, is a memorial to the accomplishments of J.J. Sakurai from their family and friends. It is available to early-stage scientists, regardless of their nationality and geographical site on which the work was done. 

“If you take a sledgehammer to a magic 8-ball, you can find this symmetrical 20-face die, and you see how it all works,” said Rick Robinett, professor of physics. “That’s what Vernon does. Researchers in the U.K. throw together these particles and Vernon figures out what’s inside and how they make things work.”

Barger’s work focuses on exploring and understanding how the universe works at the tiniest distance scales. As part of his work, Barger developed strategies for the discovery of Standard Model particles and tests of their interactions at colliders. His work now focuses on mathematical symmetry and the string theory landscape at the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator that pushes protons or ions to near the speed of light. His research has been continuously funded since 1963 by the U.S. Department of Energy and its predecessor agencies.

Barger was a recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow award in 1972. He is an American Physical Society Fellow, served on the Department of Particles and Fields executive committee, and was a Frontier Fellow at Fermilab in 1998. Barger has held visiting appointments at physics institutes around the world including the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the University of Durham, the University of Hawaii, the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at University of California Santa Barbara, Rutherford Lab, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of Tokyo, and the University of Washington.

“I learned to do and love theoretical particle physics at Penn State from my inspiring Ph.D. thesis adviser, Emil Kazez,” Barger said. “The timing of my career was incredibly fortuitous, coinciding with the discoveries of the quarks and gluons, the weak bosons and the Higgs boson that completed the Standard Model of particle physics. It has been a thrilling journey. I am grateful to Penn State for the terrific opportunities, both as an undergrad and grad student.”

Barger grew up in Curllsville, Pennsylvania. He received his bachelor of science degree in engineering and his doctoral degree in theoretical physics from Penn State University in 1960 and 1963 respectively. Since finishing his degree, Barger has joined the University of Wisconsin at Madison as a postdoctoral researcher where he has continued on the faculty for more than 50 years. Barger is now the J.H. Van Vleck Professor of Physics and a Vilas Research Professor.

Last Updated January 12, 2021