Jean Trân Thanh Vân wins 2011 Tate Medal

News Release

American Institute of Physics recognizes international leadership in physics

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 8, 2012 — The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is pleased to announce that its 2011 John Torrence Tate Award for International Leadership in Physics is awarded to Vietnamese and French particle physicist Jean Trân Thanh Vân. Trân Thanh Vân will receive the medal, a certificate of recognition, and a $10,000 prize on April 1 at the American Physical Society meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

The medal is awarded in recognition of Trân Thanh Vân's role spanning more than four decades in bringing together the community of physicists across national and cultural borders through the Rencontres de Moriond and Rencontres de Blois, and for his tireless efforts to build a modern scientific community in Vietnam.

Jean Trân Thanh Vân was born in Dong Hoi, Vietnam, a city located just north of the 17th parallel along which the country was divided in 1954. He spent his childhood in a country ravaged by war. At age 13 he had to leave his family to continue his studies in Hu, and at age 17 he took an opportunity to go to university in France.

After earning undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics in 1957, he turned his studies toward particle physics. At the time, research on elastic electron-proton scattering had revealed that the proton is not the ultimate constituent of matter, but that it possesses structure. Jean Trân Thanh Vân's thesis thus focused on the neutron, natural partner of the proton in the structure of matter. He received his Doctorate ès Sciences degree from the University of Paris in 1963.

When working on his thesis in France, Trân Thanh Vân perceived a lack of communication between theoretical and experimental physicists working in the same fields. Thus, in 1966, he created with a few colleagues a series of meetings that he named "Rencontres," whose essential aim was to promote exchange and collaboration in a friendly and convivial atmosphere. The first Rencontres de Moriond meetings were held in January 1966 in Savoie. Attending were about twenty European particle physicists, theorists, and experimentalists who were given the opportunity to meet in a relaxed atmosphere. Gradually, the Rencontres gained international stature as a venue for presenting new discoveries. Trân Thanh Vân's wife Kim, a biologist, went on to create similar Rencontres for biologists in 1970, leading to interdisciplinary exchanges between biologists and physicists. In the late 1970s, convinced of the complementary nature of particle physics and astrophysics, Trân Thanh Vân developed the Moriond Astrophysics series in 1981, which is held in parallel with the Rencontres de Moriond in particle physics so as to maximize cross-discipline interactions. In this spirit of cross-fertilization, a new series, the Rencontres de Blois, was initiated in 1989. At these interdisciplinary events, held in the prestigious Castle of Blois, physicists, astrophysicists, cosmologists, biologists, chemists, and mathematicians have the opportunity to meet and discuss topics such as chaos and complexity and the origin of life.

In 1993, with the opening of Vietnam to the western world, the first Rencontres du Vietnam were held to enable the Vietnamese scientific community, after years of isolation, to develop contacts and exchanges with foreign colleagues. Thematic schools for researcher training were created, such as the Vietnam School of Physics, which has been operating annually since 1994, and welcoming many young researchers from Vietnam and other Asian countries.

Trân Thanh Vân and his wife have also been active on the humanitarian scene. In 1970, they founded in Paris the association Aide à l'Enfance du Vietnam (Aid to the Children of Vietnam) to help Vietnamese orphans. The association has created in Vietnam a shelter and training center for homeless children in Hu and two SOS Children's Villages, one in Dalat and one in Dong Hoi, in the framework of the International Federation of SOS Children's Villages (SOS Kinderdorf International).

About the Tate Medal
The John Torrence Tate Award for International Leadership in Physics, or "Tate Medal," was established by the American Institute of Physics in 1959 to recognize distinguished service to physics on an international level -- especially service that furthers international understanding and exchange. Given every two years, the Tate Medal is intended primarily for non-U.S. citizens, and it consists of a certificate, a medal, and a $10,000 cash award. For more information about the prize, see:

About the American Institute of Physics
The American Institute of Physics is an organization of 10 physical science societies, representing more than 135,000 scientists, engineers, and educators and is one of the world's largest publishers of scientific information in physics. AIP pursues innovation in publishing of scholarly journals and offers publishing services for its Member Societies. AIP's suite of publications includes 15 journals, two of which are published in partnership with other societies; magazines, including its flagship publication Physics Today; and the AIP Conference Proceedings series. Through its Physics Resources Center, AIP also delivers valuable services and expertise in education and student programs, science communication, government relations, career services for science and engineering professionals, statistical research, industrial outreach, and the history of physics and other sciences.