Richard E. Breedon, ’77, 2021 Professional Achievement Award Recipient
“I was inspired by the respect and confidence that Professor Franklin had in me as a mere undergraduate student and appreciated the invitation to his discussions and unique research endeavors.”
Richard E. Breedon, ’77, is an experimental high energy particle physicist and the author or co-author of more than 1,200 scientific papers. His field work began in the Kent State mass spectrometry lab where he designed and built a readout system to collect data from the analog mass spectrometer, which he analyzed using a minicomputer that he programmed and maintained.
“I started at Kent State at the age of 17, planning to major in mathematics with a minor in business administration,” Richard said. “However, my first business statistics course was disappointing because it only covered techniques and examples and none of the theoretical background. I dropped the business idea and found I liked the math in physics better than the math in mathematics. The courses I took at Kent State steered me into my very rewarding career path.”
During his time at Kent State, he quickly found a mentor in Professor Wilbur Franklin, a liquid crystal transport theorist. Richard took Professor Franklin’s physics and parapsychology courses before asking him to be the faculty advisor for the Hatha Yoga Society club, which he was president of at the time. As their working relationship grew closer, Franklin invited Richard to take part in his experiments.
“He asked me to participate in paraphysics research involving the reputed Israeli psychic, Uri Geller,” said Richard. “I was inspired by the respect and confidence that Professor Franklin had in me as a mere undergraduate student and appreciated the invitation to his discussions and unique research endeavors.”
After graduating from Kent State in 1977, Richard went on to graduate school at the University of Rochester where he earned a master’s degree in physics. He then attended Rockefeller University and received a Ph.D. in experimental physics.
In his professional career, Richard conducted research and experiments at Fermilab in Illinois, KEK in Tsukuba, Japan, and CERN in Geneva where he was a founding member of the CMS experiment. The discovery of the Higgs Boson particle in 2012 by CMS and its sister experiment ATLAS led to the two surviving theorists who predicted the particle back in the early 1960s earning the 2013 Nobel Prize.
The Nobel Committee acknowledged this crucial contribution of the experimental discovery for which the prize was awarded: "For the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider."
In addition to making experimental discoveries, he also dedicates time to teaching the next generation of scientists at the University of California, Davis and Yale-NUS College in Singapore.
“From 2016 to 2018, I twice taught a course in high energy particle physics for first- and second-year students at Yale-NUS College,” Richard said. “Because my intention was to arouse interest in physics among students just beginning science courses, I tried to make the class engaging. In the introductory part of the course, I showed a clip from the 2008 Daily Show in which John Oliver visits CERN, and I am among the people he briefly interviews. My intent was to show my students how particle physics is both interesting and cool, and I think I was successful.”
Richard has always enjoyed that his profession provides the opportunity to work with students and scientists from all over the world.
“The pursuit of physics research brought me to West Berlin, Geneva, Bangkok, small towns in France and Switzerland, Japan and Singapore,” said Richard. “These experiences allowed me to learn and discover completely new things in the cities I worked, lived and traveled.”