Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

Mary Wheeler Wigner Memorial Scholarship

The Mary Wheeler Wigner Memorial Scholarship is awarded annually to one or more Rutgers physics majors who, in the judgment of the physics faculty, have demonstrated outstanding academic excellence. The scholarship was established in memory of Mary Wheeler Wigner, who was a professor of physics at Rutgers. The scholarship winners are announced at the Departmental Awards Banquet in April, sponsored by the Rutgers Society of Physics Students .

A photograph of Prof. Wigner is shown above. Click on the picture to see a larger image.

Mary Wheeler Wigner (1901-1977)

Biographical sketch contributed by George Horton

Professor Mary Wigner was born on September 25, 1901 in Fairhaven, Vermont, where her father was superintendent of schools. After graduating from Wellesley College as a physics major, she obtained her Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 1932. Her doctoral dissertation was entitled "Magnetic Susceptibilities of Alpha-Manganese and Beta-Manganese." For the next 18 years she was a member of the Vassar physics department advancing through the ranks to be a popular and effective professor. She was also a great gardener and ice skater.

She was active in the physics community, and regularly attended the celebrated Ann Arbor Physics Summer School at the University of Michigan. It was there that she met the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Eugene Wigner and fell in love with him. The two were married on June 4, 1941. This led to an odyssey from Princeton to the University of Chicago to Oak Ridge while Eugene Wigner contributed vitally to the Manhattan Project, and Mary Wigner gave birth to their son in 1942 and their daughter in 1944. After 1947 the Wigner family settled down in Princeton, where Eugene was the Thomas D. Jones Professor of Physics.

After returning from a sabbatical semester in Holland in 1956-57, Mary Wigner joined the Douglass College physics department, then headed by Prof. Wilfrid Jackson. She taught a variety of courses and participated actively in college life. In 1961 the Douglass College physics department was merged with that at Rutgers College, and moved to its present location in Piscataway in 1963, where Mary had an office on the second floor. She continued teaching physics until she retired in 1965.

Mary was married to a great physicist, but in addition her brother-in-law was the celebrated Nobel laureate physicist Paul Dirac. He was a frequent visitor to their home, where (understandably) physics was in the air. When she needed help, Mary did not hesitate to enlist whatever help was at hand. On one memorable occasion she was flanked by Eugene Wigner and Paul Dirac in the Physics Lecture Hall, correcting and grading Physics 203-204 blue books with the rest of the faculty and the TAs.

Mary Wigner was a warm-hearted, caring professor who was particularly proficient in solving introductory physics problems. On one occasion, her daughter came home from Swarthmore College for a weekend with some homework problem from her introductory course. The daughter consulted both her father Eugene Wigner and her uncle Paul Dirac, who were both baffled and advised her to ask her mother for help. It was good advice, because Mary understood the problem at once and gave appropriate guidance.

Mary Wigner was a typical New Englander. She maintained high standards and would quickly see through phony excuses. But for students who needed help, she spared no efforts to support and guide them. She was a sparkling and knowledgeable colleague who helped build and sustain the Rutgers Department of Physics and Astronomy during a critical and creative period in its ascent to national prominence.

Mary Wigner died on November 7, 1977.

Winners of the Mary Wheeler Wigner Memorial Scholarship

1985-86Scott Axelrod 
1986-87William Butler 
1987-88William ButlerAlvin Fridie
1988-89Rebecca KozodoyYoung Lee
Corey Weiss 
1989-90Corey WeissAubrey Hanbicki
Mario MartinezDavid Clayton
David FoxMichael Thayer
1990-91David ClaytonChristopher Page
Kunal PujaraMichael Thayer
Paul EppChe Lee
1991-92Paul EppJason Tiscione
Heather CohenDavid Wolinski
1992-93Carynelissa ErlickRonda Halovanic
Oskar LiivakDavid Wolinski
1993-94N. Peter ArmitageChristopher Chiara
Eva HalkiadakisOskar Liivak
Brian Utter 
1994-95Gabriel AdamekEva Halkiadakis
Brian UtterDaniel Serrano
1995-96Jeremy BrickerBradford Price
Daniel RabinowitzDanna Rosenberg
David FishMichael Galvez
1996-97David FishMichael Schneider
Ilya KisterDavid Medvigy
1997-98Marta Zgagacz 
1998-99Marta Zgagacz 
1999-00Adam CunhaDonglai Gong
2000-01Nicholas ButchAdam Reese
Lynne TrabachinoMatthew Wetstein
2001-02Stephen Healey 
2002-03John McClain 
2003-04Seth Caughron 
2004-05Noelle Stanley 
2005-06Joseph Walsh 
2006-07Joseph Wolf 
2007-08Javier Sanchez 
2008-09David Ruffner 
2009-10Hou Keong Lou 
2010-11Edward Lochocki 
2011-12Aaron Rosenberg 
2012-13Brian CoopersmithKelvin Mei
 Joseph Reichert 
2013-14Julia GonskiDavid Kolchmeyer
2014-15Alexandra DeMaioAsher Wasserman
2015-16Jaclyn BradliAditya Parikh
2016-17Jennifer CoulterXiaofei Yu
2017-18Viktor KrapivinNitika Yadlapalli

Photographs from Awards Banquets

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

Martha Upton, the daughter of Mary Wheeler Wigner, and scholarship winner Stephen Healey, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 12, 2001.
Scholarship winner John McClain, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 16, 2002.
Scholarship winner Seth Caughron, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 22, 2003.
Scholarship winner Noelle Stanley, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 20, 2004.
Scholarship winner Joseph Walsh, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 26, 2005.
Scholarship winner Joseph Wolf, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 18, 2006.
Scholarship winner Javier Sanchez, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 24, 2007.
Scholarship winner David Ruffner, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 29, 2008.
Scholarship winner Hou Keong Lou, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 21, 2009.
Scholarship winner Edward Lochocki, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 27, 2010.
Scholarship winner Aaron Rosenberg, at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 26, 2011.
Scholarship winners Brian Coopersmith (left), Kelvin Mei (middle), and Joseph Reichert (right) at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 17, 2012.
Scholarship winners Julia Gonski (left) and David Kolchmeyer (right) at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 23, 2013.
Scholarship winners Alexandra Demaio (left) and Asher Wasserman (right) at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 22, 2014.
Scholarship winners Jaclyn Bradli (left) and Aditya Parikh (right) at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 21, 2015.
Scholarship winners Jennifer Coulter (left) and Xiaofei Yu (right) at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 19, 2016.
Scholarship winners Viktor Krapivin (left) and Nitika Yadlapalli April 2017.

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