Nobel Prize Recipient in Physics. A particle accelerator physicist, he was honored in 1984 for discoveries which permitted correlation of two of the four basic forces of nature. Raised in The Hague, he studied at local schools and in 1952 received an engineering degree from Delft University of Technology, then after working for Philips Electronics he joined CERN, the Geneva-based European nuclear research center, in 1956. Scientists had long recognized the existence of four elemental natural forces, namely gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force, and the weak force, and postulated that the weak force mediates radioactive decay and, on a practical level, allows the sun to shine by permitting the fusion of hydrogen atoms and makes possible Carbon-14 dating. The problem, however, was proving the theory as no one had ever been able to produce the particles which convey the force. In the early 1980s van der Meer developed the technique of stochastic cooling which facilitates the collection of large quantities of antiprotons, thus paving the way for the collision of beams of protons and antiprotons within CERN's Super Proton Synchrotron; in 1983 his colleague Carlo Rubbia ran the UA1 experiment and created 10 of the earlier-postulated W and Z bosons. Such was the import of van der Meer and Rubbia's work that they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for 1984, a rather short waiting time by Nobel standards; their discovery provided a building block for others, leading to the unification of electromagnetism and the weak force into "electroweak" and to the 1994 discovery of the top quark, another fundamental particle and the final piece of the Standard Model. Van der Meer also received the 1982 Duddell Medal and Prize, remained with CERN until his 1990 retirement, and lived out his days in Geneva. At his death he was, along with Ernest Lawrence, one of two accelerator physicists to win the Nobel Prize.
Bio by: Bob Hufford