Blair Ratcliff wins American Physical Society award

Blair Ratcliff
Blair Ratcliff, left, receives the American Physical Society’s Division of Particles and Fields Instrumentation Award from Marcela Carena, chair of the American Physical Society’s Division of Particles and Fields. (Reidar Hahn/Fermilab)

When the Big Bang gave birth to our universe about 14 billion years ago, it should have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter. Yet, today’s cosmos is dominated by matter. The BABAR experiment, which operated at Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory from 1999 to 2008, tried to explain this cosmic imbalance.

Now, the American Physical Society has recognized BLAIR RATCLIFF, a physicist emeritus at SLAC and Stanford, with the 2017 Division of Particles and Fields Instrumentation Award “for the development of novel detectors exploiting Cherenkov radiation” – an advance that greatly enhanced BABAR’s capabilities and influenced the design of other experiments. He shares the prize with Lawrence Sulak from Boston University.

BABAR looked for differences in the decay of particles called B mesons and their antiparticles, produced in collisions of electron and positron beams from SLAC’s PEP-II facility. Although the experiment did demonstrate that the matter-antimatter imbalance predicted by the standard model of particle physics is essentially correct, this is insufficient as an explanation for the dominance of matter in the universe.

A crucial step in the analysis of the BABAR data was the identification of particles coming out of the collisions. Ratcliff invented a detector that accomplished exactly that.

“Blair’s tremendous contributions to instrumentation have had and will have significant impact on how we do particle physics experiments – at SLAC and elsewhere in the world,” said JOANNE HEWETT, professor of particle physics and astrophysics, director of SLAC’s Division of Elementary Particle Physics and deputy associate lab director for the Science Directorate. “We’re delighted for Blair and proud as a team that he has been recognized.”

Ratcliff has spent most of his career at SLAC, which is one of 10 Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science laboratories. He first came to the lab in 1966 after graduating from Grinnell College with a bachelor’s degree in physics. He subsequently pursued physics graduate studies at Stanford, earning a master’s degree in 1968 and a doctorate in 1972. Ratcliff spent time at the U.K.’s Rutherford Lab and at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory. He returned to SLAC in 1975 and served as the SLAC BABAR department head from 2002 to his retirement in March 2017.

Read more on the SLAC news site.