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Brian Josephson

Born 4 January 1940 (1940-01-04) (age 70)
Cardiff, Wales
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields Physics
Institutions University of Cambridge, Trinity College, Cambridge
Known for His work in condensed matter physics, Josephson effect
Notable awards Nobel Prize for Physics (1973)

Brian David Josephson, FRS[1] (born 4 January 1940; Cardiff, Wales[2]) is a Welsh physicist. He became a Nobel Prize laureate in 1973 for the prediction of the eponymous Josephson effect.[2]

As of late 2007, he was a retired professor at the University of Cambridge, where he is the head of the Mind–Matter Unification Project in the Theory of Condensed Matter (TCM) research group. He is also a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.[3]



Brian Josephson attended Cardiff High School and then Cambridge University, where he gained a BA in 1960[1] Whilst an undergraduate, he became notorious as a brilliant and self-assured student.[2] A former lecturer remembers the importance of being particularly precise if addressing a class that included Josephson; if a mistake was made, Josephson would not be afraid to politely point it out after the lecture.[2] As an undergraduate he published a paper in which he calculated a thermal correction to the Mössbauer effect that reconciled previously different measurements of gravitational red shifts reported by teams in the US and UK.[4 ] After completing his undergraduate degree he continued to study at Cambridge, and in 1964 was awarded his PhD in physics[1]

Academic career

Josephson became a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge in 1962[1] before moving to the United States to take a position as Research Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois.[1] He returned to Cambridge University in 1967 as an Assistant Director of Research at the Cavendish Laboratory and then a professor of physics in 1974,[1] a position he retained until his retirement in 2007.

Since 1983 Josephson has been appointed a Visiting Professor at various institutions including the Wayne State University in 1983,[1] the Indian Institute of Science in 1984[1] and the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1987.[1]

Josephson was a member of the Theory of Condensed Matter (TCM) Group, a theoretical physics group at the Cavendish Laboratory, for much of his research career.[5] While working at TCM group he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973 while still only a Reader in Physics. He shared the award with Japanese physicist Leo Esaki and American physicist Ivar Giaever, who each received 1/4 of the prize, with 1/2 going to Josephson.[6] Unusually, along with Josesphson, neither Esaki nor Giaever held professorships at the time of the award. It is rare that academics ranked below professors win the prestigious prize.[7]

Josephson also directed the Mind–Matter Unification Project in the TCM Group.[8] He currently sits on the Advisory and Editorial Board of NeuroQuantology: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Neuroscience and Quantum Physics[9]



Josephson effect

Josephson is best known for his pioneering theoretical work on superconductivity, earning him a 1/2 share of the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physics.[4 ] Specifically, it was awarded for "his theoretical predictions of the properties of a supercurrent through a tunnel barrier, in particular those phenomena which are generally known as the Josephson effects",[6] which led to the invention of the Josephson junction. These junctions are key components in devices used to make highly sensitive measurements in magnetic fields.[4 ] Further use for his discoveries was realised by researchers at IBM who, by 1980, had assembled an experimental computer switch structure, which would permit switching speeds from 10 to 100 times faster than those possible with conventional silicon-based chips, increasing data processing capabilities by a vast amount.[2] He has stated that his "work on the brain is more significant than [his] Nobel-prize winning research."[10]

Mind–Matter Unification Project

Josephson directed the Mind–Matter Unification Project, which he describes as: "a project concerned primarily with the attempt to understand, from the viewpoint of the theoretical physicist, what may loosely be characterised as intelligent processes in nature, associated with brain function or with some other natural process".[10] More generally, the research involves how the brain works, investigating topics such as language and consciousness, and pondering the fundamental connections between music and the mind.[4 ] It is based on the belief that quantum mechanics is not the ultimate theory of nature. [4 ] He maintains that "Quantum Theory is not a complete picture of nature even though it is correct in its own domain". [11] He believes ideas such as Complementarity in Physics may also apply to Biology, [11] an idea originally proposed by Niels Bohr. However, this idea was opposed by Bohr's contemporary Delbrück who maintained that life's processes were dependent on macroscopic interactions and not quantum effects.

Despite his retirement Josephson continues to be active within the Mind-Matter Unification project.[10] Among his aims is to find mechanisms behind phenomena such as the possibility that organisms can learn to bias the statistics of supposedly random physical processes through having a better understanding of its patterns than non-living matter.[4 ]

Science and religion

Josephson has participated in science and religion discussions. Regarding conflict, he stated "I don't see a conflict. There are conflicts between the views of many scientists on religion, but I think there need be no ultimate conflict. Science may be capable of extension in a way that is compatible with the tenets of religion."[12]


Josephson is one of the more well-known scientists who say that parapsychological phenomena may be real, and is also interested in the possibility that Eastern mysticism may have relevance to scientific understanding.[10] He has said that one of his guiding principles has been nullius in verba (take nobody's word), saying that "if scientists as a whole denounce an idea, this should not necessarily be taken as proof that the said idea is absurd; rather, one should examine carefully the alleged grounds for such opinions and judge how well these stand up to detailed scrutiny."[4 ][10]

In 2001 Josephson's views on the paranormal were under the spotlight when he wrote about them in a booklet to accompany six special stamps to honour the 100th anniversary of the Nobel prize.[13] The Royal mail had sent Josephson a request to write a small article about their award and the implication of research in their field they could use in conjunction with the special Nobel Centenary stamp issue.[13] He wrote the following:

"Physicists attempt to reduce the complexity of nature to a single unifying theory, of which the most successful and universal, the quantum theory, has been associated with several Nobel prizes, for example those to Dirac and Heisenberg. Max Planck's original attempts a hundred years ago to explain the precise amount of energy radiated by hot bodies began a process of capturing in mathematical form a mysterious, elusive world containing 'spooky interactions at a distance', real enough however to lead to inventions such as the laser and transistor. Quantum theory is now being fruitfully combined with theories of information and computation. These developments may lead to an explanation of processes still not understood within conventional science such as telepathy, an area where Britain is at the forefront of research."[10]

He came under criticism from several fellow physicists including David Deutsch, a quantum physicist at Oxford University who stated "It is utter rubbish. Telepathy simply does not exist. The Royal Mail has let itself be hoodwinked into supporting ideas that are complete nonsense".[13] However, Josephson maintains "There is a lot of evidence to support the existence of telepathy, for example, but papers on the subject are being rejected - quite unfairly".[13]

Cold fusion

Brian Josephson has expressed his disappointment with the way that many publishers view the research done by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons as being too flawed to consider. In 1989 they reported that they had achieved cold fusion by using a palladium electrode saturated with heavy water. Numerous attempts in the next couple years failed to repeat their results. Josephson claims that subsequent experiments have confirmed their results but that those publishers have stubbornly refused to consider the results of those positive experiments.

Comment from Brian Josephson, Professor of Physics, Cambridge University:[14 ]

"Broader approach", yes: let's not forget the version of fusion reported by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in 1989. You thought that that had been discredited perhaps? Wrong! It is true that a number of teams failed to replicate the experiment, but that does happen sometimes when the experimental conditions are critical. Other people persisted, and got results eventually. Why does one not hear about this? In a word, censorship: it is the practice of many editors to return such papers without sending them out to be refereed (I am surprised to learn that it is the opinion of the President of the Royal Society that that is the privilege of editors to do this if it fits their sincerely held prejudices, but it seems to me that this is a perfect recipe for slowing the advance of science).

Unlike the sceptics who prefer to criticise from their armchairs, I have gone ahead and visited no fewer than three laboratories where such research is going on, in order to get at the facts. My latest was a visit to the experiment of Thomas Claytor of LANL, who is measuring tritium production in a glow discharge with a view to finding out which electrode materials give the highest yield. (The sceptics will I suppose claim that he is adding the tritium somehow, in which case why don't they go along to the lab and see if that is what is in fact happening?)

Who will be the first editor of a major journal to bring this lunatic situation to an end, by being brave enough to publish such results as these? Then, maybe, there can be a concentrated effort to realise whatever potential there may be from this new energy source.


Awards and medals


  • New Scientist 1969[1]
  • Research Corporation 1969[1]
  • Fritz London 1970[1]


  • Guthrie Medal (Institute of Physics) 1972[1]
  • van der Pol 1972[1]
  • Elliott Cresson Medal (Franklin Institute) 1972[1]
  • Hughes (Royal Society) 1972[1]
  • Holweck (Institute of Physics and French Institute of Physics) 1972[1]
  • Faraday (Institution of Electrical Engineers) 1982[1]
  • Sir George Thomson (Institute of Measurement and Control) 1984[1]


  • Take nobody's word for it, New Scientist, Volume: 192 Issue: 2581 Pages: 56-57 (2006)
  • Positive bias to paranormal claims, Physics World, Volume: 13 Issue: 10 Pages: 20-20 (2000)
  • What is truth? Physics World, Volume: 12 Issue: 2 Pages: 15-15 (1999)
  • Skeptics cornered, Physics World, Volume: 10 Issue: 9 Pages: 20-20 (1997)
  • Light Barrier, New Scientist, Volume: 146 Issue: 1975 Pages: 55-55 (1995)
  • Awkward Eclipse, New Scientist, Volume: 144 Issue: 1956 Pages: 51-51 (1994)
  • All in the Memes, New Statesman & Society, Volume: 6 Issue: 276 Pages: 28-29 (1993)
  • Defining Consciousness, Nature, Volume: 358 Issue: 6388 Pages: 618-618 (1992)
  • Telepathy Works, New Scientist, Volume: 135 Issue: 1833 Pages: 50-50 (1992)
  • Supercurrents through Barriers, Advances in Physics, Volume: 14 Issue: 56 (1965)
  • Coupled Superconductors, Review of Modern Physics, Volume: 36 Issue: 1P1 (1964)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Brian D. Josephson – Curriculum Vitae". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2009-06-17.  
  2. ^ a b c d e "Encyclopedia Britannica's Guide to the Nobel Prizes". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2009-10-14.  
  3. ^ "Brian David Josephson". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2007-09-17.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Pioneer of the Paranormal". PhysicsWorld. May 2002. Retrieved 2009-06-17.  
  5. ^ "Cambridge Theory of Condensed Matter group". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2009-10-14.  
  6. ^ a b "1973 Nobel Prize in Physics". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2009-10-14.  
  7. ^ "Nobel interview with Josephson".  
  8. ^
  9. ^ "NeuroQuantology Editorial Team". NeuroQuantology: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Neuroscience and Quantum Physics. Retrieved 2009-10-20.  
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Brian David Josephson at Cavendish". Retrieved 2009-10-14.  
  11. ^ a b "Can the Physicist's Description of Reality be Considered Complete?". Retrieved 2009-06-17.  
  12. ^ Varghese, Roy Abraham; Margenau, Henry (1992). Cosmos, bios, theos: scientists reflect on science, God, and the origins of the universe, life, and homo sapiens. La Salle, Ill: Open Court. pp. 50. ISBN 0-8126-9186-5.  
  13. ^ a b c d "Royal mail's guru in telepathy row". The Guardian. 30 September 2001. Retrieved 2009-06-17.  
  14. ^ "Dreaming of fusion". PhysicsWorld. Retrieved 2009-10-14.  

External links

Simple English

Brian Josephson
Born4 January 1940 (1940-01-04) (age 71)
Cardiff, Wales
NationalityUnited Kingdom
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge, Trinity College, Cambridge
Known forHis work in condensed matter physics, Josephson effect
Notable prizesNobel Prize for Physics (1973)

Brian David Josephson, FRS[1] (born 4 January 1940; Cardiff, Wales[2]) is a Welsh physicist who became a Nobel laureate in 1973.[3][2]

As of late 2007, he was a retired professor at the University of Cambridge, where he is the head of the Mind–Matter Unification Project in the Theory of Condensed Matter (TCM) research group. He is also a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.[4]

Josephson is one of the more well-known scientists who say that parapsychological phenomena may be real, and is also interested in the possibility that Eastern mysticism may have relevance to scientific understanding. In 2005, Josephson said that "parapsychology should now have become a conventional field of research, and yet parapsychology's claims are still not generally accepted". He compared this situation to that of Alfred Wegener's hypothesis of continental drift, where there was initially great resistance to acceptance despite the strength of the evidence.[5]



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