Luciano Maiani and Jean Iliopoulos awarded the Dirac Medal

Luciano Maiani, when he was Director-General of CERN.

Jean Iliopoulos in 1999. (©CNRS Photothèque - Julien Quideau)

On 8 August, the 2007 Dirac Medal, one of the most prestigious prizes in the fields of theoretical physics and mathematics, was awarded to Luciano Maiani, professor at Rome’s La Sapienza University and former Director-General of CERN, and to Jean Iliopoulos, emeritus Director of Research at the CNRS Laboratory of Theoretical Physics. The medal was awarded to both physicists for their joint "work on the physics of the charm quark, a major contribution to the birth of the Standard Model, the modern theory of Elementary Particles."

Founded by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in 1985, the Dirac Medal is awarded annually on 8 August, the birthday of the famous physicist Paul Dirac, winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics. It is awarded to scientists in recognition of their fundamental contributions to the fields of theoretical physics or mathematics. Recipients of the Nobel Prize, the Field Medal or the Wolf Foundation Prize are not eligible to receive the Dirac Medal.

In 1970, Luciano Maiani and Jean Iliopoulos, together with Sheldon Glashow (1979 Nobel Prize winner) postulated the "GIM" mechanism (an acronym based on the names of the three authors Glashow-Iliopoulos-Maiani), which made an invaluable contribution to electroweak theory. One implication of their work was that it suggested the existence of another quark, the fourth quark predicted at the time. This other quark, named the charm quark, was discovered several years later and had properties similar to those described in the original GIM article. Their work, which was of international importance, contributed to the development of the Standard Model.

In addition to his numerous contributions to theoretical physics, Luciano Maiani also took on many other responsibilities in the field of physics. From 1993 to 1997, he was head of Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), during which time he also took on the function of delegate to the CERN Council. He subsequently became President of the CERN Council until December 1998. In January 1999, he succeeded Chris Llewellyn Smith as CERN Director-General, his term of office ending in December 2003.