I just received the latest copy of APS News (August/September 2019), published by the American Physical Society. I am enclosing a copy of the obituary. Two things were of interest to me:

John Robert Schreiffer was born in Oak Park on May 31, 1931 to Louise (Anderson) and John Henry Schreiffer, and died on July 27, 2019. 

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1972, along with John Bardeen and Leon Cooper. 

Their prize, for the so-called BCS theory of superconductivity, was one of the more important of the 20th century — both for its advancement of our fundamental understanding of nature and for its applications in technology. Superconductivity was discovered by “accident” (or serendipity!) by Kamerlingh Onnes at Leiden (NL) in 1911. Its importance was overlooked by the founders of quantum mechanics: Einstein, Bohr, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, etc.

Quantum mechanics was supposed to involve only “small” things such as molecules, atoms, nuclei, quarks, etc. How could the quantum theory be relevant for a “macroscopic” object, such as a ring of “dirty lead” held in a liquid Helium bath at temperature about 4 K above absolute zero (-269 degrees Celsius), in which induced electric currents seemed to last “forever” because of ZERO electrical resistance?

The BCS theory is based upon the concept of a “cosmic dance” between paired electrons (spin up and spin down — called Cooper pairs, which waltz through many materials without losing energy, along paths of zero resistance).

Incidentally, this was the second Nobel Prize in Physics for John Bardeen. His first, for the discovery and development of the transistor, also was based upon quantum physics and led to technical applications so wide-ranging that our life would be unimaginable without it.

Porter W. Johnson 

Professor of physics, emeritus,
Illinois Institute of Technology 

and a proud Oak Park resident since 1969 

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