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Three American Jews Win Nobel Prize in Physics

October 20, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Three American physicists, who were once referred to as “the Jewish mafia at Columbia” University, are recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics.

Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger were named co-recipients of the 1988 Nobel Physics Prize, which they were awarded for discovering the presence of a “ghostlike” particle in the building blocks of matter.

The three “ghostbusters” will share the $390,000 prize for their work on the neutrino, defined as “ghost-like constituents of matter.”

The three, all New York natives, were accorded the tongue-in-cheek label of “Jewish mafia at Columbia in the 60s” in the autobiography of Sheldon Glashow, a physical theorist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979.

Lederman, 66, is now director of the Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. Schwartz, 55, formerly a professor at Columbia and Stanford Universities, now has his own computer communications company in Mountain View, Calif.

Steinberger, 67, works in Geneva, Switzerland, at the laboratories of CERN, the European Nuclear Research Center, where he is “building one of the nicest experiments for the new electron-positron colliding beam, called LEP (Large Electron Positron),” Schwartz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from his company in the San Francisco suburb.

Steinberger was Schwartz’s thesis sponsor at Columbia in 1953.

Schwartz, a native of the southeast Bronx, attended Bronx High School of Science and Columbia, Both his parents were Russian immigrants.

The three physicists discovered the neutrino in 1961 at Columbia, University’s Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

Schwartz’ company, Digital Pathways Inc., which designs dial-up security for mainframe computers, is funded in funded in equal parts by the American and Israeli governments for its joint research and development programs.

Schwartz sits on the board of governors of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.


On Monday, a Jewish woman from the Bronx was named a co-recipient of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Gertrude Elion, 70, was awarded the prize, to be shared with her colleague George Hitchings, 83, with whom she has worked in drug research since 1945.

A third scientist sharing the $390,000 prize with them is a Briton, Sir James Black, who developed beta blockers and cimetidine (Tagamet).

Elion and Hitchings, who currently work for the Burroughs Wellcome Company at Research Triangle Park, N.C., were awarded the prestigious prize for their development of a sequence of drugs now considered indispensable in the treatment ulcers, gout, malaria, auto-immune disorders and leukemia.

Elion, daughter of a dentist, was born Jan, 23, 1981 in New York, where she grew up on Walton Avenue in the Bronx.

She attended Hunter College, where she majored in chemistry and minored in physics, She graduated summa cum laude in 1937 and received an M.S. from New York University in 1941.

A recipient of many awards, Elion was named to the Hunter College Hall of Fame in 1973 and was appointed by President, Reagan to the National Cancer Advisory Board.

The Nobel Prizes will be presented Dec. 10.

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