Discovering the fundamental nature of the universe requires scientists with vision, ingenuity, and persistence. Nobel Prize winner Dr. Samuel Ting exemplifies these important traits. His experiments have discovered one of the six known quarks, the fundamental building blocks of all matter, and more recently have been probing matter, antimatter, and dark matter from a detector mounted on the International Space Station.
Samuel Ting has been at Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1969 and is the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Physics at MIT. He was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., and returned to China with his parents at two months of age. At age 20 he returned to Ann Arbor, earning his bachelor’s degree in math and physics, and a PhD in physics from the University of Michigan in 1962. After receiving his doctorate he was a Ford Foundation fellow at CERN, and then performed experiments at the Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, Germany.
In the early 1970s, Ting had the vision to propose constructing a detector system at Brookhaven National Accelerator Laboratory, in Upton, NY. This detector would use electrons and positrons, the electron’s antimatter counterparts, to search for new particles created by high-energy protons colliding with a target. Building this detector system required innovative methods for eliminating background events and obtaining high mass resolution. This persistence was rewarded in 1974 when Ting’s group discovered an unpredicted particle they called “J.” This discovery was the first experimental observation of the fourth quark, now called “charm.” Ting was co-recipient of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physics for this fundamental discovery.
In 1995, Dr. Ting proposed an even bolder experiment—constructing a particle detector to be attached to the International Space Station to search for antimatter and other exotic particles in space. It took over a decade, and the work of 500 physicists around the world under Ting’s leadership to construct the $1.5 billion detector, called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) with funding from 16 countries. After the decision to retire the space shuttle in 2010, the AMS was removed from the shuttle docket and left without any way to be transported to the space station. Dr. Ting successfully lobbied Congress and NASA to add one more shuttle flight that would be used to transport AMS to the space station. Since its launch in May 2011, the AMS has recorded more than 400,000 positrons. In a seminar in March 2013, Ting presented the results of this study, which may provide evidence about the nature of dark matter. This dark matter has been detected by gravitational attraction, but has not yet been discovered in accelerator experiments.
Please join us for Nobel Conference 49, “The Universe at Its Limits,” on October 1 & 2, to learn more about Dr. Ting’s work on the nature of matter in the universe. Tickets are now on sale. For ticket orders and information about the conference, the speakers, and the Nobel concert, visit gustavus.edu/NobelConference.