Research conducted at SLAC has led to four Nobel Prizes — three in physics and one in chemistry.
SLAC Director Emeritus Burton Richter shared the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in the discovery of a heavy elementary particle—the charm quark. Richter led the group that designed and built the Stanford Positron Electron Asymmetric Ring (SPEAR) at SLAC. Experiments at SPEAR in 1973-1974 looked at the rate of occurrence of events in which a colliding electron and positron annihilate, disappearing and producing other particles in the process. At certain energies, the rate seemed inexplicably large. On November 10, 1974, additional measurements in the problematic energy range confirmed a dramatic rate increase. Further research found that this peak is due to the production of particles containing a new kind of quark—the charm quark. The Nobel Prize was shared by Richter and Samuel Ting (Brookhaven), who led a group that independently discovered the same particle.
SLAC's Richard Taylor shared the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics with two colleagues for pioneering investigations of the structural components of protons and neutrons that led to the development of the quark model in particle physics. Experiments conducted from 1966-1978 by Richard Taylor (SLAC), Henry Kendall (MIT) and Jerome Friedman (MIT) studied how high-energy electrons bounce off of protons and neutrons in a target. Their results showed more electrons bouncing back with high energy at large angles than could be explained if protons and neutrons were uniform spheres of matter. The experiments revealed extremely small, dense objects moving around the protons and neutrons. These tiny particles are quarks.
SLAC scientist Martin Perl shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work that led to the discovery of the tau lepton. In 1975, Perl scanned experimental data taken from 1973 and 1974 at SPEAR, searching for an unusual type of event. What if, he supposed, sometimes an electron and positron annihilate, and the detector records only one electron-type track and one muon-type track? These theoretically predicted events were found, and at rates that could only be explained by postulating the existence of a new type of particle, one just like the electron but 3000 times more massive. This particle was the tau lepton.
Stanford Professor Roger D. Kornberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2006 for determining how DNA's genetic blueprint is read and used to direct the process for protein manufacture. Kornberg carried out a significant part of the research leading to this prize at SLAC's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource. By shining bright X-rays through crystallized proteins and watching how the X-rays scattered, Kornberg revealed the three-dimensional atomic structure of proteins in high-resolution, enabling him to view their complex structures. The high level of detail acquired from these studies were fundamental to Kornberg's work defining the events of transcription.