Geoff Greene’s lifetime is inextricably linked to that of the neutron. His tireless pursuit of this scientific mystery—finding out how long a neutron lives and what that reveals about the weak force, the Big Bang, and other fundamentals of science—has earned him the Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics from the American Physical Society. Greene was recognized “for foundational work establishing the field of fundamental neutron physics in the US, for developing experimental techniques for in-beam measurements of the neutron lifetime and other experiments, and for realizing a facility for the next generation of fundamental neutron physics measurements.” He will accept the award at a ceremony in April.
Greene is the second UT faculty member in the past decade to win the award. Former Professor Witek Nazarewicz claimed the honor in 2012.
Professor and Department Head Hanno Weitering weighed in on Greene’s accomplishments: "Geoff not only has an excellent track record in building complex scientific apparatus; he also has a very deep knowledge and profound understanding of the biggest physics questions out there," Weitering said. "This combination of knowledge and skills is a rare treat that has allowed him to set the nation’s research agenda in the field of fundamental neutron physics. We are thrilled with this extraordinary recognition, and are especially proud that now two of our nuclear physics faculty have received the most prestigious nuclear physics prize in the US."
Greene has been following neutrons and building beamlines to study them for decades, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he holds a joint appointment. The US Department of Energy recently published a feature on this research ("The Mystery of the Neutron Lifetime") and he was invited, along with colleague Peter Geltenbort, to write about his work for Scientific American in "The Neutron Enigma."
Greene has shared his expertise with the wider scientific community, serving on the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee; as well as in UT’s classrooms, teaching courses including Introduction to Quantum Mechanics and Modern Physics. For those efforts, the UT Society of Physics Students named him Teacher of the Year in 2011. In 2016 the university awarded him the Alexander Prize, an honor reserved for superior teaching and scholarship.
Greene earned a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College and a PhD from Harvard University. Throughout his long career he has been happy to credit others and encourage their success. When he joined the faculty in 2002, he listed hiring young faculty in the field of nuclear physics among his goals. Associate Professor Nadia Fomin was one of those hires.
"I joined the fundamental neutron physics field late in 2007, without knowing very much about it, surprised that Geoff was willing to take such a chance," Fomin said. "I later learned that I was just the most recent of Geoff’s recruits, as I kept coming across exceptional physicists that were hired into the field by Geoff in various roles throughout his illustrious career. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the field exists in the US in large part due to his efforts. I’ve been extremely lucky to be mentored by such a physics rock star, and I hope to continue his legacy of growing the field and doing first-rate science."