Val Logsdon Fitch

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Val Logsdon Fitch
Born (1923-03-10)March 10, 1923
Merriman, Nebraska, U.S.
Died February 5, 2015(2015-02-05) (aged 91)
Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.
Fields Particle physics
Institutions Princeton
Alma mater Columbia
McGill University
Known for Discovery of CP-violation
Notable awards E. O. Lawrence Award (1968)
John Price Wetherill Medal (1976)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1980)
National Medal of Science (1993)

Val Logsdon Fitch (March 10, 1923 – February 5, 2015) was an American nuclear physicist. A native of Merriman, Nebraska, he graduated from Gordon High School and attended Chadron State College for three years before being drafted into the U.S. army in 1943. Fitch later graduated from McGill University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1948 and completed his Ph.D. in physics in 1954 from Columbia University. In World War II, Fitch worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. He was a member of the faculty at Princeton University.

Fitch and co-researcher James Watson Cronin were awarded the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physics for a 1964 experiment using the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron at Brookhaven National Laboratory that proved that certain subatomic reactions do not adhere to fundamental symmetry principles. Specifically, they proved, by examining the decay of K-mesons, that a reaction run in reverse does not merely retrace the path of the original reaction, which showed that the reactions of subatomic particles are not indifferent to time. Thus the phenomenon of CP violation was discovered.

Fitch was a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the JASON defense advisory group.[1]


Val Fitch was born on a cattle ranch in Merriman, Nebraska, on March 10, 1923. He was the youngest of three children. His father, Fred Fitch, was badly injured in a horse riding accident and could no longer work on his ranch. Therefore the family moved to the nearby town of Gordon, Nebraska, where he entered the insurance business.[2]

As a soldier during World War II, Fitch was sent to Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. While there, he met many of the greats of physics including Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, James Chadwick, Isidor Isaac Rabi and Richard C. Tolman. In the three years Fitch worked in the lab of Ernest Titterton, he became well acquainted with the techniques of experimental physics.[2] After the war, Fitch was offered a graduate assistantship at Cornell University, but needed to finish his undergraduate degree, which he did at McGill University. For his graduate degree, he went to Columbia University, where he worked under Jim Rainwater. For his thesis, Fitch designed and built an experiment to measure the gamma rays emitted from mu-mesic atoms (i.e. atoms in which an electron is replace by a muon).[2]

After obtaining his doctorate, Fitch's interest shifted to strange particles and K mesons. He took a position at Princeton University, where he spent the next 20 years studying K mesons. Unexpectedly, he discovered that the decay of neutral K mesons did not respect CP symmetry (Simultaneously exchanging left and right and particles and anti-particles). For this discovery, Fitch and his student James Cronin received the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physics.[2]

Fitch died at the age of 91 on February 5, 2015 in Princeton, New Jersey.[3][4]

Personal life[edit]

Fitch had two sons from his first marriage with Elise Cunningham (?-1972), and three step children with his second wife, Daisy Harper, whom he married in 1976.[2]



  1. ^ Horgan, John (April 16, 2006). "Rent-a-Genius". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Val Fitch – facts". Nobel Media AB. Retrieved February 13, 2015. 
  3. ^ Zandonella, Catherine (February 6, 2015). "Nobel laureate and Princeton physicist Val Fitch dies at age 91". Princeton University. 
  4. ^ Dennis Overbye (February 10, 2015). "Val Fitch, Who Discovered Universe to Be Out of Balance, Is Dead at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2015. Val Fitch, who shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physics for work that revealed a surprising imbalance in the laws of nature and helped explain why the collision of matter and antimatter has not destroyed everything in the universe, died on Thursday at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 91. ... 

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