James Watson Cronin
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1980
Born: 29 September 1931, Chicago, IL, USA
Died: 25 August 2016, St. Paul, MN, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
Prize motivation: “for the discovery of violations of fundamental symmetry principles in the decay of neutral K-mesons”
Prize share: 1/2
For a long time, physicists assumed that various symmetries characterized nature. In a kind of “mirror world” where right and left were reversed and matter was replaced by antimatter, the same physical laws would apply, they posited. The left-right symmetry had already been proven violated when, in 1964, James Cronin and Val Fitch discovered that the matter-antimatter symmetry is violated when the neutral K-meson decays. Their experiment also proved that symmetry does not apply during time reversal: reactions going backward in time are not identical to those going forward.