On Friday, Feb. 10, standing at the front of the Chapel pews, Rick Van Berg '60 turned to the student body and asked, "Why are we in a matter universe? If you have the big bang, you expect to produce half matter and half antimatter — it should be symmetric. Back when I was here, the standard answer was, 'Well, some galaxies are matter galaxies and some galaxies are antimatter galaxies, and the total is equal.' That's not the case. The astronomers and cosmologists have been busy. We know we're in a matter universe. Why is that?"
To perhaps some audience members' relief, it was a rhetorical question.
Edward W. Morley Medal recipient Van Berg asked this question in the midst of a presentation entitled "Sixty Years of Experimental Neutrino Physics (A Somewhat Personal Perspective)." He is the 20th alum to receive the distinction, which was established in 2003 to honor an alumni for scientific achievement.
Whether he or she has produced a collection of accomplishments or made a career of scientific excellence, the recipient is recognized for their contribution and service to a field of basic or applied science, or to the application of science, technology or engineering to the improvement of the human condition.
Each year, the recognized alumnus/a returns to campus to share their knowledge and expertise in their field. As Van Berg's field deals with particle physics, he lectured about the discovery and continued research on neutrinos, which are nearly massless neutral particles. Delivering his speech lecture-style, a few steps away from the podium, he briskly walked his audience through various experiments regarding neutrinos, brushing through particle physics as thoroughly as his time allowed.
It was a fascinating and, at times, dizzying glimpse into a microscopic part of the universe, as well as an engaging look at the day-to-day life and varied career of a physicist.
Named for Edward W. Morley, the award celebrates the Western Reserve College (now Case Western Reserve University) faculty member, who taught in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His most-recognized contribution to the scientific world is his Michelson-Morley Experiment of 1887, in which he attempted to measure the velocity of the Earth and the speed of light, the results of which helped pave the way for Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. In 1902, Morley was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.