Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

Richard J. Plano Dissertation Prize

The Richard J. Plano Dissertation Prize is given annually to a PhD graduate who, in the judgment of the physics graduate faculty, wrote the best PhD dissertation in the past year. The prize, which includes a cash award, was established by an anonymous donor in honor of Richard J. Plano, who was a professor of physics at Rutgers until his retirement in 1999. The prizewinner is announced at the annual Departmental Awards Banquet in April.

Richard J. Plano (1929-2012)

Biographical sketch contributed by Mohan Kalelkar

Richard J. Plano was born on April 15, 1929 in Merrill, Wisconsin. He won a competitive all-tuition Pepsi-Cola Scholarship, which made it possible for him to attend the University of Chicago, where he received the AB Degree in 1949, the BS in 1951, MS in 1953 and his Ph.D. in 1956. He helped develop the first liquid hydrogen bubble chamber, which he then used for his thesis research into pion-proton scattering.

He joined the faculty of Columbia University, New York, NY in January, 1956 as an instructor and was promoted to assistant professor in 1958. While there he participated in bubble chamber experiments at Nevis Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory which determined the parity of the neutral pion and the spin of the lambda hyperon, revealed the properties of the then mysterious neutral kaon, and produced numerous other results which formed the basis of the now commonly accepted "Standard Model".

In 1960 he joined the Physics Department at Rutgers as an associate professor and quickly founded a strong program in high-energy experimental physics, starting with an advanced facility to analyze bubble chamber photographs. In 1963 he was promoted to full professor and in 1985 to Professor II. His research was supported by the National Science Foundation, which increased his annual support each year for 35 years to a maximum of $315,000.

The NSF support included funding for an automatic device (called PEPR) for scanning and measuring bubble chamber photographs semi-automatically under computer control. An outgrowth of this effort was one of the first powerful time-sharing computer systems, which controlled PEPR, analyzed the resulting data, and was made available to the entire faculty, staff, and graduate student body starting in 1965. This pioneering computing effort gave the department impressive computing power at an early stage in the development of computers. His research using this equipment produced many results of major importance concerning the strong interactions as well as neutrino interactions. Starting in 1985, his major interest turned to electron accelerators and he made major contributions to the SLD detector at Stanford University. During his career, he used the high energy accelerators at the University of Chicago, Nevis Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Fermilab, CERN, and Stanford University. More than 200 refereed publications have resulted from these investigations.

He enjoyed teaching at all levels. His major teaching efforts were at the elementary level and in mentoring graduate students; thirteen received the Ph.D. degree under his guidance.

Richard Plano passed away January 8, 2012, following a long illness.

Winners of the Richard J. Plano Dissertation Prize

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This page is maintained by Prof. Ronald Gilman. Last updated April 28, 2023.