Courtesy of Cornell University

Ginsparg received the award for having made an "outstanding contribution through exceptional statesmanship in physics."

January 23, 2020

Cornell Physics Professor Honored for Contribution to Research Article Accessibility

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After creating an accessible archive for scholarly articles nearly 30 years ago, Prof. Paul Ginsparg Ph.D. ’81, physics and information science, received an award from the American Institute of Physics in December for this work.

The archive, known as arXiv, is a “free distribution service and an open archive for scholarly articles,” particularly in science, engineering, and math-related fields. Ginsparg founded the service, previously called Los Alamos E-Print Archive, in 1991.

Ginsparg initially designed arXiv to mitigate issues with scholarly article accessibility to “level the playing field,” he said, citing the existence of “too much unintentional unfairness in the paper preprint distribution.”

Authors used to send photocopies of their work to a small number of people, keeping researchers at non-elite institutions “out of the privileged loop entirely,” according to Ginsparg.

But even though communication methods have become more sophisticated since then, Ginsparg highlighted the continued relevance of arXiv.

“As the first to make open access material available on-line, it was the prototype for everything that followed,” Ginsparg said. “It remains the biggest of its type.”

ArXiv has accrued over one million subscribers for the past six years, according to the AIP press release.

AIP awarded Ginsparg the Compton Medal, which the organization gives every four years to physicists “who have made outstanding contributions through exceptional statesmanship in physics.”

“If they had such a vote in high school, I would probably have been voted least likely to become a statesman,” Ginsparg said. “It’s fun to receive an award nominally for statesmanship.”

In recent research, Ginsparg has studied applications of quantum computing in high energy physics. He has also been working on applications of machine learning, both in quantum physics and information science applications.

Since 2001, Ginsparg has been a professor of physics and information science at Cornell University. He received a B.A. in physics from Harvard University in 1977, and a doctorate in theoretical particle physics from Cornell University in 1981.

Ginsparg said that finding enjoyable work in a particular field is key for success.

“My advice would be to look for a field that’s fun for you — because it’s going to be hard work and long hours, but if it’s fun you’ll never mind or even notice, so that provides the best chance of success,” Ginsparg said.