Top 50 Hokies Spotlight: Robert Coleman Richardson
- Best campus food in America? Check
- Best college football entrance? Check
- Nobel Prize-winning alumni? Check
Robert Coleman Richardson is a Hokie Alum, and oh yeah, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
Richardson was born in Washington, DC in 1937 and grew up in Arlington, VA (shout out). He attended Washington-Lee High School before going off to Blacksburg in 1954. Initially he started as an electrical engineering student, but found the subject matter too dry, so then he tried chemistry, but he was color blind, so he quickly nixed that option. Richardson then found his match with physics.
Richardson graduated with his Bachelors in 1958, and then stayed in Blacksburg two more years to get his Masters in 1960. Richardson then took his talents to Durham to work towards his PhD in physics at Duke University. While at Duke he met his wife, Betty McCarthy, who he married in 1962. They later added two daughters, Jennifer and Pamela, to their family.
After receiving his PhD in 1965 he went north to Cornell where he worked for over 40 years. In 1990, he became the Director of the Cornell atomic and solid-state laboratory.
In 1996 Richardson, along with fellow physicist David Lee and other senior researchers, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their 1972 discovery of the property of superfluidity in helium-3 atoms in the same Cornell lab that Richardson would later come to lead. This groundbreaking research has since been used to investigate the notion of cosmic strings, which have relevance when discussing the Big Bang Theory!
In 1998 Richardson was promoted to VP for Research at Cornell, a position he would stay in until 2007. Richardson passed away in Ithaca, New York on Feb 19, 2013 at the age of 75. The research and discoveries he leaves behind are some of the most influential and impactful in all of physics.