Walter Lewin : biography

31 January 1936 -


In 1978, Lewin received the NASA Award for Exceptional Scientific Achievement.

In 1984 he was the recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Award and of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the MIT's Science Council Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

In 1988 he received the W. Buechner Teaching Prize of the MIT Department of Physics.

In 1986 he was the Distinguished Spring Lecturer at Princeton University.

In 1993 he was elected as a Corresponding Member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences.

In 1996 he was elected as an American Physical Society Fellow.

In 1997, he was the recipient of a NASA Group Achievement Award for the Discovery of the Bursting Pulsar.

In 2003, he received the "2003 Everett Moore Baker Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching" award. Some of his lectures are available online in video format.

On May 5, 2011, he received the very first OCW Award for Excellence.

On April 3, 2012, he was ranked by the Princeton Review among "The Best 300 Professors in the US". He was the only Professor at MIT to make it to that list.

Education and career

He earned his Ph.D. degree in nuclear physics in 1965 at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. From 1960 to 1965, Lewin was a physics teacher at the Libanon Lyceum in Rotterdam. During that same period he carried out research in low-energy nuclear physics at the Delft University of Technology where he received his Ph.D.

Walter Lewin went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in January 1966 as a post-doctoral associate, and became an assistant professor later that year. He was promoted to Associate Professor of Physics in 1968 and to full Professor in 1974. at MIT OpenCourseWare (archived 2009) He joined the X-ray astronomy group at MIT and conducted all-sky balloon surveys with George W. Clark. Through the late seventies, there were about twenty successful balloon flights. These balloon surveys led to the discovery of five new X-ray sources, whose spectra were very different from the X-ray sources discovered during rocket observations. The X-ray flux of these sources were variable. Among them was GX 1+4 whose X-ray flux appeared to be periodic with a period of about 2.4 minutes. This was the discovery of the first slowly rotating neutron star.

In October 1967 when Scorpius X-1 was observed, an X-ray flare was detected. The flux went up by a factor of about 4 in ten minutes after which it declined again. This was the first detection of X-ray variability observed during the observations. The rockets used by other researchers could not have discovered that the X-ray sources varied on such short time scales because they were only up for several minutes, whereas the balloons could be in the air for many hours.

Lewin was co-investigator on the Small Astronomy Satellite 3 (SAS-3) project. He directed the burst observations and discovered several X-ray bursters, among them was the which can produce thousands of X-ray bursts in one day. His group also discovered that the Rapid Burster produces two types of bursts and established a classification of bursts as type I (thermonuclear flashes) and type II (accretion flow instabilities).

Lewin was Co-Principal Investigator on High Energy Astronomy Observatory 1 HEAO-1 (A4), which has yielded the first all sky catalog at high-energy X rays. With H. Pedersen and J. van Paradijs, Lewin made extensive studies of optical bursts which are associated with X-ray bursts; for X-ray detections they used SAS-3 and the Japanese Observatory "Hakucho". Their combined burst observations demonstrated that the optical bursts are a few seconds delayed relative to the X-ray bursts. This established the size of the accretion disc surrounding the accreting neutron stars.

In his search for millisecond X-ray pulsations from low-mass X-ray binaries, in 1984-85 Lewin made guest observations with the European Observatory EXOSAT in collaboration with colleagues from Amsterdam and Garching, Germany. This led to the unexpected discovery of intensity-dependent Quasi-periodic oscillations (QPO) in the X-ray flux of GX 5-1. During 1989 to 1992, using the Japanese Observatory "Ginga", Lewin and his co-workers studied the relation between the X-ray spectral state and the radio brightness of several bright low-mass X-ray binaries.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine