Cushing Memorial Prize for 2009

Hanneke Janssen
University of Nijmegen

Hanneke Janssen

The John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values, along with the Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame and the Advisory Committee of the James T. Cushing Memorial Prize in History and Philosophy of Physics are pleased to announce the award of the Cushing Prize for 2009 to Hanneke Janssen. She is being honored for her Master’s Thesis—“Reconstructing Reality: Environment-Induced Decoherence, the Measurement Problem, and the Emergence of Definiteness in Quantum Mechanics”—presented at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands in 2008.

The Cushing Prize carries a $1000 award plus an invitation to deliver a lecture as part of the History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium at the University of Notre Dame.  Sadly, Hanneke died in a traffic accident soon after completing her Thesis and so is not able to receive the award or deliver the lecture herself.  Dr. Jos Uffink, of the Institute for History and Foundations of Science at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who advised Hanneke on her Thesis, will receive the award and deliver the lecture on her behalf.  Dr. Uffink’s lecture, “Decoherence and Reality,” will be delivered during the Spring 2010 Colloquium series.  In accordance with the wishes of Hanneke’s family and mentors, the cash award will be used to establish a new prize targeted specifically to recognizing the work of graduate students in philosophy of physics.

Hanneke described her project in the abstract of her Thesis: “This work is a critique of the program of “environment-induced decoherence” as advocated by Zurek, Zeh and Joos, among others. In particular, the alleged relevance of decoherence for a solution of the “measurement problem” is subjected to a detailed philosophical analysis.”

Her nomination assessed the importance of her work for the philosophy of physics: “Hanneke’s Thesis gives a detailed and well-informed discussion of the decoherence argument. It clearly lays down the many presuppositions of this argument and carefully distinguishes between various readings of these presuppositions. This analysis is particularly welcome since so many authors recently have used the decoherence argument in their various proposals to solve interpretational problems (in particular the measurement problem) in quantum mechanics, while uncritically accepting the claims by proponents of this argument.”

Hanneke received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Theoretical Physics from the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands.  She earned the distinction of Cum Laude on her Master’s diploma in October 2008, just one month before her untimely death.