Robert J. Birgeneau Receives the Karl T. Compton Medal for Leadership in Physics

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$10,000 Prize Awarded by the American Institute of Physics (AIP)

Robert J. BirgeneauCollege Park, Md., January 24, 2013 -- The American Institute of Physics (AIP) announces that Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau of the University of California, Berkeley is the winner of AIP's 2012 Karl T. Compton Medal for Leadership in Physics.

Named after prominent physicist Karl Taylor Compton, the medal is given by AIP to distinguished American physicists like Birgeneau who have made outstanding contributions through exceptional statesmanship in science. Birgeneau is recognized “for his leadership in improving the situation for women in science in the United States and around the world, his efforts to enhance diversity in science, and for deepening our understanding of magnetism and its interplay with other states of matter.”

On Monday, March 18 at the March Meeting of the American Physical Society in Baltimore, Md., Chancellor Birgeneau will receive the Compton Medal, a certificate of recognition, and a check for $10,000.

“The Compton Medal is one of AIP’s most prestigious honors. Since we present this award only once every four years, we take special care to ensure that we’re recognizing truly exceptional statesmen in science,” said AIP Executive Director and CEO H. Frederick Dylla. “Dr. Birgeneau is very highly regarded among his peers and the broader public for the contributions he has made to scientific investigation, and for his commitment to diversity and equity in the academic community. He is most deserving of this recognition.”

Birgeneau is an internationally distinguished physicist and a leader in higher education. In 1998, when Birgeneau was Dean of Science at M.I.T., he authorized A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT, proposed by women science faculty members. The study produced an influential 1999 report (, and the recommendations were implemented with the strong support of Dean Birgeneau. A standing committee on women’s issues was subsequently established, and major changes have taken place at M.I.T. as a result. The study has had a large impact beyond M.I.T. and has been quoted nationally and internationally. Birgeneau has continued to support women by setting up many follow-up committees.

“Needless to say, I am greatly honored to receive this award from the AIP,” says Birgeneau. “Previous winners are among my heroes in modern physics. It is particularly gratifying that the AIP has recognized our efforts to make science more inclusive.”  He added: “it is also inspiring to receive an award named after Karl T. Compton, since in his role as President of M.I.T., Compton transformed M.I.T.”

As chancellor at UC Berkeley, Birgeneau in September 2011 joined First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House, playing a featured role in an East Room event to emphasize the need to clear hurdles for girls and women with aspirations to careers in science, technology, engineering and math. At that panel discussion, Birgeneau said eliminating obstacles to raising families while pursuing research careers is “not only an issue of equity, fairness and justice in our treatment of women, but also a critical issue for the success of our country.”

Under Birgeneau, UC Berkeley has been a leader in fostering a family-friendly workplace for faculty, students and staff, and the campus established the University of California system’s first initiatives to address the work-family issues of faculty and graduate students. UC Berkeley’s “family-friendly package” includes tenure-track stoppage of one year for faculty parents with caregiving responsibilities for a newborn or new adoptee.

“These are entitlements available to men, women and same-sex partners,” Birgeneau has said, “and importantly, faculty are not made to feel that they are asking for special treatment. This is very significant for our faculty.”

A Toronto native, Birgeneau received his bachelor of science degree in mathematics from the University of Toronto in 1963 and his Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 1966. He was a member of the technical staff at Bell Laboratories from 1968 to 1975, and then joined the physics faculty at M.I.T. He was named Chair of the Physics Department in 1988 and Dean of Science in 1991. He became the 14th president of the University of Toronto in 2000 and has served as the ninth chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley since September 2004. At Berkeley, Birgeneau holds faculty appointments in the Departments of Physics and Materials Science and Engineering in addition to serving as Chancellor. He was elected to membership in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the American Philosophical Society, and other scholarly societies. He has received many awards for teaching and for his research on the fundamental properties of materials.

About the Compton Medal

The Karl Taylor Compton Medal for Leadership in Physics was established by the American Institute of Physics in 1957 to recognize distinguished physicists who have made outstanding contributions to physics through outstanding statesmanship in science. The award is named for Karl Taylor Compton in honor of his service to the physics community. Intended primarily for U.S. physicists, the award is given every four years and consists of a medal, a certificate, and a cash award of $10,000. The award is supported by a restricted/endowed fund.

About AIP

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is an organization of 10 physical science societies, representing more than 135,000 scientists, engineers, and educators. As one of the world's largest publishers of scientific information in physics, AIP employs innovative publishing technologies and offers publishing services for its Member Societies. AIP's suite of publications includes 15 journals, three of which are published in partnership with other organizations; magazines, including its flagship publication Physics Today; and the AIP Conference Proceedings series. Through its Physics Resources Center, AIP also delivers valuable services and expertise in education and student programs, science communications, government relations, career services for science and engineering professionals, statistical research, industrial outreach, and the history of physics and other sciences.


Charles E. Blue
American Institute of Physics
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