Benjamin W. Lee bigraphy, stories - Physicists

Benjamin W. Lee : biography

January 1, 1935 - June 16, 1977

Benjamin Whisoh Lee (Korean language: 이휘소, Lee Whi-soh; January 1, 1935 – June 16, 1977) or Ben Lee, was a Korean-American theoretical physicist. His work in theoretical particle physics exerted great influence on the development of the standard model in the late 20th century, especially on the renormalization of the electro-weak model and gauge theory.


Gauge theory

In 1964, Lee published an article about spontaneous symmetry breaking with his advisor Abraham Klein and contributed to the appearance of Higgs mechanism. He is often credited with the naming of the Higgs boson and Higgs mechanism.

And in 1969, he succeeded individually the renormalization of the spontaneously breaking global gauge symmetry model. In the mean time, Dutch graduate student Gerardus 't Hooft was working in the case of local gauge symmetry breaking in the Yang-Mills theory using the Higgs mechanism. He met Lee and Symanzik at the Cargèse Summer School and consulted them on his work and got an insight. He finally succeeded in the renormalization of non-abelian gauge theory and won the Nobel Prize later for this work. David Politzer said in his 2004 Nobel Lecture that the particle physicists community at that time learned all from Lee who actually combined insights from his own work and from Russian physicists' work and encouraged 't Hooft's paper.

Charm quark

Glashow, Maiani and Iliopoulos predicted charm quarks to match the experimental results. Lee wrote an article with Gaillard and Rosner and predicted the mass of the charm quarks by calculating the quantities which correspond to the mixing and decay of K meson.


In 1977, Lee and Weinberg wrote an article about the lower bound on heavy neutrino mass.

In this paper, they revealed that if the heavy and stable particles in the early universe which can only be transferred into other particles through the pair annihilation remain as relics after the universe's expansion, then the strength of the interaction should be bigger than 2 GeV. This calculation can be applied to find the amount of the dark matter. This bound is called the Lee-Weinberg bound.

Controversy over death

In Korea, there was a novel of him with incorrect information about his academic subject and political affiliation. That fiction described that he tried to help South Korea's dictatorship develop nuclear weapons and intended to make some relation between his death and CIA. But rather he opposed vigorously the autocratic system of South Korea at that time and he canceled every program he designed for Korean graduate education about particle physics in opposition to that government.


Lee was born in Yongsan, Seoul. One year before graduating Kyunggi High School, he entered the department of chemical engineering at Seoul National University at the top of his class. While in college he emigrated to the United States and graduated with a bachelor's degree at Miami University, a master's at the University of Pittsburgh, and a Ph.D. at University of Pennsylvania by age 25. Lee worked at Institute for Advanced Study and was a professor of physics at University of Pennsylvania, SUNY at Stony Brook, University of Chicago, and head of the theoretical physics department at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1976. On June 16, 1977, he was killed in a car accident not far from Kewanee, Illinois (on the Interstate 80). Lee was regarded by his peers as a world-class elementary particle physicist at the time of his sudden death. He studied gauge theory and weak interactions.

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Living octopus

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