1960s Physics Achievement Chronology

. . . sans nuclear weapons development


  • Building on the pioneering work on masers by Schawlow and Townes in the late 1950s, Theodore H. Maiman demonstrates first working laser, using a pink ruby cylinder, at Hughes Research Lab.
  • Brookhaven National Lab (Long Island) builds its Alternating Gradient Synchrotron
  • Ali Javan and colleagues use a laser light beam for the first time in history to place a telephone call (Bell Labs, December)
  • Luis Alvarez announces his discovery in bubble chambers of very short-lived particles termed “resonances.”
  • Narindar Singh Kapany coins the phrase “fiber optics” in Scientific American.


  • Element 103, “Lawrencium” isolated (Berkeley).
  • Spain joins CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research); Yugoslavia leaves.
  • Murray Gell-Mann proposes the theory of the Eightfold Way, a classification system for hadrons setting the table for the Quark Model.
  • Circular detector developed for brain-imaging studies developed by James Robertson at Brookhaven; a precursor to Positron Emission Tomography Machines (PET scans).
  • Physicist and cosmologist Robert Dicke claims that certain forces in physics, such as gravityand electromagnetism, must be perfectly “fine-tuned” for life to exist anywhere in the universe. Related to Brandon Carter’s idea of the “anthropic principle” introduced in 1974.
  • NASA and IBM physicist Rolf Landauer first formulates Landauer’s principle having to do with logically-reversible computation, entropy, and heat – key to quantum computing and information.


  • The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), now the National Accelerator Laboratory founded on Sand Hill Road.
  • Princeton & Stanford complete the Colliding Beam Experiment (CBX) to test Gerard K. O’Neill’s invention of the late 1950s of a circular particle storage ring as a key part of a particle accelerator for further controlled collisions of particles by particle beams. CBX stores its first beam on March 28.
  • The muon neutrino, a type of lepton, discovered at Brookhaven Laboratory’s Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) by Jack Steinberger, Melvin Schwartz, and Leon Lederman for which they shared the Nobel Prize in Physics; demonstrates that more than one kind of neutrino exists in the elementary subatomic world.
  • The University of Chicago publishes the Collected Papers of Enrico Fermi, 1921-1938.


  • David H. Frisch & J.H. Smith prove radioactive decay of mesons is slowed by their motion as predicted by relativity.
  • The physicist and historian Derek de Solla Price develops the idea of unequal production of literature among authors in a given subject area.  What becomes “Price’s Law” states that half of all papers/books on a topic are produced by the square root of the number of authors. Price, a physicist, attempted to apply this idea to science.


  • Murray Gell-Mann coins the word “quark” which GeorgeZweig proposed independently and called “aces.” Quark inspired by James Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake.
  • Existence of charm quark is speculated by James Bjorken and Sheldon Glashow.
  • Peter Higgs proposes the Higgs boson mechanism.
  • Carbon dioxide and argon lasers invented at separate locations.
  • CP violation of CP symmetry discovered in the kaon system within particle physics.
  • A collaboration of Syracuse, Rochester and Brookhaven discovers the omega-minus particle made of three strange quarks.
  • Northern Ireland physicist, John Stewart Bell, pens eponymous theorem; establishes an area of study called quantum entanglement, particularly concerned with mechanics over long distances.


  • First chemical lasers developed.
  • Burton Richter & Gerard K. O’Neill perform first colliding beam experiment at much higher energies than thought possible (due to storage rings – 1962).


  • Sir Charles Kao and George Hockham demonstrate high-purity (silica) glass fibers can replace copper/electrical wires in communications and data transfers.
  • Element 102 isolated, “Nobelium” (Soviet Union)


  • Steven Weinberg introduces the electroweak interaction/unification theory that unifies electromagnetic and weak interactions (2 of the 4 fundamental forces of nature) into one consistent framework.
  • Morikazu Toda introduces his “Toda Lattice” as a simple model for a one-dimensional crystal in solid state physics.  
  • Morikazu Toda introduces his “Toda Lattice” as a simple model for a one-dimensional crystal in solid state physics.  
  • John A. Wheeler coins the dramatic phrase “black hole” to describe the remnant of the collapse of a massive star [science journalist Ann Ewing may have first used the term]
  • Roger Penrose proposes Twister Theory as a general platform for physics.
  • Alvin Weinberg tests a Molten Salt Breeder Reactor (MSBR).
  • Astrophysicist W.A. Fowler (1911-1995) argues the sun will exhaust its hydrogen fuel after 10-12 billion years; will then explode and transform to a red giant star so large that it will envelope Jupiter.


  • George Charpak develops, while at CERN, the multiwire proportional chamber that detects and gives positional information on charged particles and photons.
  • Sheldon Glashow, Addus Salam, and Steven Weinberg unify the electromagnetic force and the weak interaction, showing them to be two aspects of a single force, now termed the “electro-weak force.”
  • Brookhaven researchers Gordon Danby and James Powell patent Maglev, the principle of superfast magnetically levitated transportation.


  • Yoichiro Nambu (University of Chicago) and Leonard Susskind (Yeshiva U.) make first presentations of string theory.
  • Roger Penrose posits in his “weak cosmic censorship hypothesis” that there are no naked (hidden) singularities in the universe other than the Big Bang.
  • Spain leaves CERN.
  • George Smith and Willard Boyle invent the charge-coupled device (CCD) at AT&T Bell Labs shortly after Philips Research Labs developed the so-called bucket-brigade device.  Together they revolutionize the movements of electrical charges within a device, and have wide applications in astronomy, photography, medical imaging, and sensors. 
  • Element 104 isolated, “Rutherfordium” (Berkeley and Soviet Union).


  • Element 105 isolated, “Dubnium” (Berkeley and Soviet Union).
  • Researchers measure very rapid reaction rates using a newly-developed laser temperature-jump technique (Brookhaven).


  • Roger Penrose proposes spin network.


  • Using a HeNe laser interferometer method, the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder, Colorado determined the speed of light in a vacuum as 299,792,458 meters/sec (186,282.397 miles/sec) – 100 times more certain than the previously-accepted measure.
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory installs its Linear [proton] Accelerator, still among world’s most powerful.
  • Atomic Time replaces Earth Time as the world’s official time standard.
  • In the area of heliophysics, a powerful series of solar storms causes extreme solar flaring and widespread geomagnetic disturbances (August 2-11); knocks out AT&T long-distance communications prompting a redesign of its land and transatlantic cables; causes detonation of naval mines near Haiphong, North Vietnam; produces a coronal cloud with the fastest transit time to earth ever recorded.
  • Richard P. Feynman of Cal Tech gives seven popular lectures at Cornell on physics starting with “The Law of Gravitation – An Example of Physical Law” (March 2 – April 13).


  • The Linac Isotope Producer at the Brookhaven National Lab starts generating radioisotopes with industrial and biomedical applications.
  • CERN starts construction of Linac 2 to replace Linac 1 as its main source of proton beams (completed 1978).


  • The first particle found to contain a so-called charm quark, the “J/psi” discovered by teams at the Brookhaven National Lab led by Samuel Ting; and at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center led by Burton Richter.
  • Element 106 isolated, “Seaborgium” (Berkeley)
  • Stephen Hawking calculates that black holes emit a form of energy now known as “Hawking Radiation” (Answers Bekenstein, 1972).
  • Theoretical physicist, Brandon Carter, coins the term “anthropic principle,” a philosophical idea that states that we observe a universe the way it is because it allows us to live and develop as humans. Related to the idea of “a fine-tuned universe” introduced by Robert Dicke in 1961 and others.


  • Abraham Pais and Sam Treiman coin the term “Standard Model” concerning the dynamics of elementary particles and quantum fields in physics.
  • Physicists at the Brookhaven National Lab discover the charmed baryon.
  • The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center discovers the third type of lepton, the tau.


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