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Val Fitch

Val Logsdon Fitch
Born (1923-03-10) March 10, 1923 (age 91)
Merriman, Nebraska
Fields Particle physics
Institutions Princeton
Alma mater Columbia
McGill University
Known for Discovery of CP-violation
Notable awards John Price Wetherill Medal (1976)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1980)

Val Logsdon Fitch (born March 10, 1923, Merriman, Nebraska, USA) is 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. He 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, he worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. He is 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 is a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


Val Fitch was born on a cattle ranch in Cherry County, 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.[1]

As a soldier during World War II, he 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 he worked there in the lab of Ernest Titterton, he became well acquainted with the techniques of experimental physics.[1]

After the war he 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 he 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).[1]

After obtaining his doctorate his 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 he and his student James Cronin received the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physics.[1]

Personal life

Fitch has two sons from his first marriage with Elise Cunningham, who died in 1972, and three step children with his second wife, Daisy Harper, who he married in 1976.[1]


  • Fitch, V. Atomic Energy Commission), (March 16, 1949).
  • Fitch, V. Atomic Energy Commission), (August 25, 1949).
  • Fitch, V. L. Atomic Energy Commission), (March 23, 1972).
  • Cester, R.; Fitch, V. L.; Montag, A.; Sherman, S.; Webb, R. C. & M. S. Witherell. United States Department of Energy, (1980).


External links

  • United States Department of Energy
  • Research page from the Princeton University Physics department
  • Val Logsdon Fitch
  • the discovery of violations of fundamental symmetry principles in the decay of neutral K-mesons
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