U. S. Postage Stamp Series Unveiling at Yale to Celebrate Exceptional Scientists

A First Day of Issue ceremony for a series of stamps honoring four American Scientists will be hosted by the U.S. Postal Service at Yale University’s Henry R. Luce Hall, 34 Hillhouse Ave. on May 4.

The scientists commemorated are thermodynamicist Josiah Willard Gibbs, geneticist Barbara McClintock, mathematician John von Neumann, and physicist Richard Feynman.
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The official unveiling of the stamps will be by John F. Walsh, a member of the Board of Governors U.S. Postal Service. “These are some of the greatest scientists of our time” said Walsh. “Their pioneering discoveries still influence our lives today.”

The scientists commemorated are thermodynamicist Josiah Willard Gibbs, geneticist Barbara McClintock, mathematician John von Neumann, and physicist Richard Feynman. Stamps will be available for purchase on site and at New Haven Post Offices Thursday, May 4, and nationwide at Post Offices and Philatelic Centers starting May 5.

“It is an honor for Yale to host this event in recognition of some of the nation’s greatest scientists and educators,” said Fleury. “We are particularly proud of Josiah Willard Gibbs, who received the nation’s first Ph.D. in engineering—from Yale.”

John Marburger, the Scientific Advisor to the President of the United States, will be the featured speaker of the event. Also speaking will be President of Yale University Richard C. Levin, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to a Presidential Commission reviewing the U.S. Postal Service mission, operations and role in the 21st century. In attendance to comment will be Feynman’s daughter Michelle Feynman, John Willard Gibbs, M.D., a distant cousin of Josiah Gibbs, von Neumann’s daughter Marina Whitman, and McClintock’s niece Marjorie M. Bhavanani.

Artist Victor Stabin of Jim Thorpe, PA, created all four stamps featuring portraits of the scientists and drawings associated with their major contributions. Information about the specific elements in each image is printed on the back of each stamp.

For further USPS information contact Melissa Dodge 202-268-5188 (melissa.l.dodge@usps.gov), Carl Walton 860-524-6209 (carl.a.walton@usps.gov) or the Postal Service website: http://www.usps.com.

Background on the Scientists

Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839-1903)
Historians and scientists alike have called Josiah Willard Gibbs one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century; some have declared his discoveries to be as fundamental in nature as those of Galileo and Newton. Gibbs made important contributions in vector analysis, electromagnetic theory, and statistical mechanics, but he is best known for developing the modern method of thermodynamic analysis.

Throughout his career, Gibbs published many books, including “On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances,” which introduced the Phase Rule, said to be the most important single linear equation in the history of science.

Gibbs also wrote five papers on the electromagnetic theory of light, prepared classroom notes that eventually became the first English language work on modern vector analysis, and in 1902 published his Elementary Principles in Statistical Mechanics.

For his extraordinary achievements, Gibbs received some of the most prestigious awards of his time, including the Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1880 and the Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1901.

Barbara McClintock (1902-1992)
In 1983, the renowned geneticist Barbara McClintock received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering genetic transposition. McClintock’s research on Indian corn plants led to her discovery, in the 1940s, that genetic material can change positions on a chromosome or move from one chromosome to another. Her discovery was confirmed then in corn, and in the 1960s and 1970s in bacteria and other organisms.

It was at Cold Spring Harbor, in the 1940s, that she discovered transposition in the course of experiments on mutations caused by broken chromosomes. She called her mobile genetic elements “controlling elements,” to indicate that they controlled the action of other genes during development. McClintock was among the first biologists to think concretely about the way genetic material controls the development of the organism.

John von Neumann (1903-1957)
One of the preeminent mathematicians of the 20th century, John von Neumann made numerous scientific contributions in both pure and applied mathematics. Among those contributions was a machine that became a model for virtually all modern computers.

He joined Albert Einstein and other scientists at the Institute for Advanced Study, founded in 1930 at Princeton, New Jersey. In 1937, von Neumann obtained U.S. citizenship, and by 1943 he was serving as a consultant on the U.S. project to build an atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

“A First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer),” written by von Neumann in June 1945, described a design based on the stored-program concept. Completed in 1952, it became a prototype for almost every computer built since that time. For his part in its development, von Neumann received the prestigious Enrico Fermi Award in 1956 from the U.S. government.

von Neumann made two other extraordinary contributions. He provided the mathematical foundations for quantum mechanics and, with Oskar Morgenstern, coauthor of “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” (1944). This theory, which has applications in business and military strategies, analyzes situations involving conflicting interests in terms of the opposing players’ gains and losses.

Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)
Richard P. Feynman was a highly original theoretical physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichero Tomonaga for fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, which the three carried out independently in the 1940s. His new formulation of quantum theory included the innovative Feynman diagrams—devised to help visualize the dynamics of atomic particles.

Over several decades, Feynman made significant contributions to many other areas of physics, including the fundamental theory for the weak nuclear force, which he developed with colleague Murray Gell-Mann. Feynman is also remembered for his major role in the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident in 1986 and for significant contributions to computation theory and biology.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, this respected physicist and educator received the Albert Einstein Award in 1954, the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 1962, the Oersted Medal for teaching in 1972, the National Medal of Science in 1979 and many other honors—but, he often said the best reward was “the pleasure of finding things out.”

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Media Contact

Janet Rettig Emanuel: janet.emanuel@yale.edu, 203-432-2157