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Election Year: 1985
Scientific Discipline: Physics
Membership Type: Member
Bruno Zumino, an influential theoretical physicist, was known for his proof of the CPT theorem (the combined operations of charge conjugation, parity, and time reversal) with Gerhart Lüders; the elucidation of chiral Lagrangians with Julius Wess and others; the discovery of supersymmetry in four space-time dimensions with Wess; and the formulation of supergravity—the supersymmetric version of Einstein’s theory of relativity—with Stanley Deser. Part of Zumino’s rich legacy is that supersymmetry—a theory that doubles the number of particles present in the Standard Model of particle physics—became the subject of intense experimental searches using the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland.
Born in Rome, Italy, Zumino received his doctoral degree in mathematical science at the University of Rome in 1945. He held postdoctoral and teaching positions in Rome until 1949, when he accepted a research appointment at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Göttingen, Germany, under the direction of Werner Heisenberg. There he met Richard Courant, who invited him to what is now the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University. In 1961, Zumino became head of NYU’s Department of Physics, a position he held until moving to CERN in 1969.
He joined the physics faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, in 1981, where he spent the rest of his career. Among Zumino’s achievements there, he made important contributions in the areas of differential geometry and quantum groups—an alternative approach to incorporating gravity into the quantum field theory that describes the strong, weak, and electromagnetic interactions—and his teaching was deemed as distinguished as it had been at New York University. During his first year at Berkeley Zumino taught a seminar course on supersymmetry and supergravity that was attended by advanced graduate students—and also by essentially all of the particle theory faculty and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory staff.
Zumino was widely appreciated not only for his classroom teaching but also for his mentorship of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. He referred to his research students as his “kids,” and they were very devoted to him. His last student, Darren Shih, wrote, “I will always respect Bruno as one of the greatest persons I have had the honor to work with and to learn from in my life.”
Similarly, upon learning of Zumino’s passing many of his colleagues wrote that he was a “giant of physics,” renowned for “the elegance of his thinking, lecturing, and writing,” as well as a warm and generous person whom they remembered for his sense of humor and the “twinkle in his eye.”
Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley