Pioneering University of Texas at Austin physicist receives prestigious Einstein award

Aug. 31, 2004

AUSTIN, Texas—Dr. Bryce S. DeWitt, a professor emeritus in physics at The University of Texas at Austin and a leading theoretical physicist, has been named the second recipient of the Einstein Prize from the American Physical Society.

DeWitt, the Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor Emeritus in Physics, is being recognized for his broad range of original contributions to gravitational physics. In particular, the society highlighted his research in quantum gravity, gauge field theories, radiation reaction in curved spacetime and numerical relativity, and the inspiration he has given to countless students.

DeWitt’s most recent book for researchers, “The Global Approach to Quantum Field Theory,” was published last year. A prodigious scientist, the 81-year-old is known for the mature theoretical understanding and elegant mathematical approach he has applied to many fundamental physics questions. He directed the university’s Center for Relativity from 1972 until 1987, and helped pioneer the development of the quantum theory of gravity.

With Professor Emeritus John A. Wheeler in physics, he also formulated the fundamental equation called the Wheeler-DeWitt Equation, which describes the wave function of the universe. His other scientific accomplishments have included applying his mathematical methods to the gauge theories, which are used to describe the forces between elementary particles.

His interest in educating others led DeWitt to write comprehensive scientific articles about the quantum theory of spacetime and other subjects. These have included lay articles to explain quantum mechanics and the structure of matter and energy. In addition, DeWitt has traveled overseas regularly to collaborate with scientific colleagues, lecturing extensively into the mid-1990s in France, Italy, Iran and elsewhere.

His research activities while on faculty in Austin included leading a scientific expedition in Mauritania in 1973 with his wife, Dr. Cecile Dewitt-Morette, to test more accurately than ever before the validity of Einstein’s general relativity theory of gravity.

The study came after 30 similar attempts during solar eclipses, and required the couple and other university physicists and astronomers to obtain telescope-based photographs of stars located during the eclipse, when their light would not be buried by that of the Sun. When compared to photos of the same stars taken six months later, the photos revealed that the Sun’s gravity had pulled the stars’ light slightly out of their original paths, as Einstein predicted.

A California native, DeWitt received an undergraduate (1943), a master’s (1947) and a doctor’s (1950) degree in physics from Harvard University, which he chose over the California Institute of Technology because of his passion for rowing. Before beginning work on his master’s degree, he served a year and a half as a naval aviator during World War II. He met Dewitt-Morette, who holds the Jane and Roland Blumberg Centennial Professor Emeritus in Physics at The University of Texas at Austin, while they were both doctorates at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.

DeWitt served as a senior research physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1952 to 1955, and became an expert on hydrodynamical computations. In 1956, the couple joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The late Dr. Alfred Schild, founder and director of the Center for Relativity at The University of Texas at Austin at that time, was interested in having the DeWitts on faculty. Dr. Fritz de Wette, then chairman of the Physics Department, invited the two to join the department. DeWitt became a full-time professor in 1972 at the center he later led, and DeWitt-Morette assumed a part-time position in the Astronomy Department under the direction of the late Dr. Harlan Smith before assuming a full-time professorship in the Physics Department.

At the university, DeWitt’s studies have included applying his Lawrence Livermore expertise to computing the behavior of colliding black holes and other astrophysical problems. He became the Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor of Physics in 1986, and an emeritus professor in 2000.

DeWitt’s previous honors include receiving the Dirac Medal from the Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics in Italy, the Pomeranchuk Prize of the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics in Moscow, the Marcel Grossman Award, and election to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

For more information contact: Barbra Rodriguez, College of Natural Sciences, 512-232-0675.