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The Dallas Morning News Robert Miller column [The Dallas Morning News]
[May 24, 2011]

The Dallas Morning News Robert Miller column [The Dallas Morning News]

(Dallas Morning News (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 24--Frank Wilczek, who received a Nobel Prize in physics in 2004 for work he did at Princeton University when he was 21, recently visited the Lamplighter School on Inwood Road.

I hear both were impressed with one another.

The Lamplighter School's patron saint was the late J. Erik Jonsson, a co-founder of Texas Instruments Inc. and former Dallas mayor. Decades ago, Jonsson brought another MIT legend to the school, Dr. Seymour Papert, a pioneer in creating educational software.

Wilczek, now 60 and an MIT faculty member, was in town to present the Lightner-Sams Lecture at Southern Methodist University.

When Sheila McCartor, executive director of the Lamplighter Alumni Association, heard that Wilczek was coming here to lecture, she was thrilled.

McCartor's late husband, Gary, and Wilczek were friends.

" "He came to SMU several times at Gary's behest, and Gary worked with him at MIT," McCartor said. "I have written him from time to time over the years, keeping up and bugging him about coming to visit the school when he is in Dallas.

"So SMU contacted me to let me know that he was coming, and then Fred Olness in the [SMU] physics department wrote to say that Frank had asked to visit the school when he was here." Lamplighter is a pre-K through fourth-grade school whose mission is to inspire "lifelong learners who are self-confident, self-reliant and creative critical thinkers." Olness brought Wisczek to Lamplighter for the tour, McCartor said. "He spent some time in John Breitfeller's science class, and the kids asked him questions about being a physicist. He said that he was most impressed by the quality and thoughtfulness of the questions that the children posed.

"One of the high points was Professor Wilczek's story about living in Albert Einstein's house when he was at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton," McCartor said. "Much of Dr. Einstein's furniture remained in the house and was used by the Wilczek family." Wilczek was duly impressed with the school.

"I have actually never seen a school designed like this," he said. "It is beautiful and functional. I can't believe you have a farm with animals. I've never known another school like this. These roosters look quite formidable!" The students asked him about science as a career.

"Physics is exciting and interesting," he told them. "You never know what you might find, or you may find nothing at all for a long time. My type of physics is not experimental. I don't do experiments; I work out calculations." He also talked with the children about the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator that was built in a tunnel near Geneva, Switzerland. He told them the LHC is expected to answer many questions for physicists.

We should mention Wilczek's signature work. He and Professor David Gross of Princeton discovered asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction.

But you knew that.

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