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Herman Winick Awarded Andrei Sakharov Prize for Upholding Human Rights

(Photo - Herman Winick)
Herman Winick. (Photo: Mark Tuschman.)

Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource physicist Herman Winick has been awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize, an honor given every two years by the American Physical Society in recognition of scientists who have worked to uphold human rights.

Winick, who is assistant director emeritus at SSRL and professor emeritus in the applied physics department at Stanford University, will receive the prize February 14 at the American Physical Society’s general meeting in Washington, D.C. He will share the award with City College of New York physicist Joseph Birman and National Science Foundation Elementary Particle Physics Program Director Moishe Pripstein.

The award is named for Andrei Sakharov, a Russian physicist and Nobel laureate who campaigned extensively against nuclear proliferation in the former Soviet Union. The prize was first given in 2006 to Cornell University physicist and Soviet exile Yuri Orlov, who, in the 1970s and 80s, was imprisoned and subsequently deported for criticizing human rights violations by the Soviet government.

"It is humbling to get a prize for which the previous winners were such incredible people, who took such serious risks and endured such serious punishments," Winick said. "Here I am in a free country, speaking my mind and trying to help these people with no thought of repercussions against me."

Winick said he suspects he was nominated for work he did to pressure the Iranian government to release Iranian physicist Mohammad Hadi Hadizadeh Yazdi, who had been one of his colleagues with the Jordan-based Synchrotron Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East collaboration. In 2001, Winick organized a letter writing campaign on Hadizadeh’s behalf, recruiting 32 Nobel Prize laureates in the effort. Winick later helped secure research positions for Hadizadeh at American institutions, including Ohio University and Harvard University.

"I just got very upset that a guy like him, who I respected so much, should be in prison for views so similar to mine," Winick said.

Winick earned his doctorate in high-energy physics from Columbia University in 1957, and has held positions at University of Rochester and Harvard University. He was one of the primary actors in the creation of SSRL and the Linac Coherent Light Source, and has played a key role in the construction of SESAME in Jordan. He has authored more 100 scientific articles and is a fellow of the APS and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

—Nicholas Bock
SLAC Today, October 8, 2009