Sidney D. Drell

Sidney D. Drell
Sidney D. Drell

For pioneering contributions to elementary particle physics and for applying fundamental physics principles to inform public policy in national security and intelligence.

Sidney Drell has been a leading physicist, researcher and government advisor for more than 60 years. A Professor Deputy Director Emeritus for the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Drell is perhaps best known for his work with research associate Tung-Mow Yan, formulating the Drell-Yan process, which explains the result of the annihilation of a quark in one particle and an antiquark in an second particle into an electron and a positron. He made important contributions in the study of the theory of quantum electrodynamics, attracting many young physicists to study under him. Drell served as deputy director of the lab from 1969 to 1998.

A trusted national security advisor, Drell is an original member of JASON, an independent group of scientists established in 1960 to advise the United States on matters of science and technology. He has chaired panels on national security in both the House and the Senate, consulted for several national security agencies and served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the President’s Science Advisory Committee.

In 2000, Drell was one of 10 scientists the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office honored as “founders of national reconnaissance as a space disciple” and was awarded the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal. He has recently completed a six- year stint as External Governor on the Board of Governors of the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. He has also served as a member of the Advisory Committee to the National Nuclear Security Administration and the chair of the Senior Review Board for the Intelligence Technology Innovation Center.

In February, President Barack Obama presented Drell with the National Medal of Science, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government upon scientists, engineers and inventors.

A 1946 graduate of Princeton University, Drell earned both a master of science degree (1947) and a PhD (1949) from the University of Illinois. After graduation, he spent two years as an instructor at Stanford University, and joined the physics department faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the full-time faculty at Stanford in 1956.

Following his retirement, Drell joined the Hoover Institution, working more recently on nuclear nonproliferation and steps toward a safer world without nuclear weapons,  authoring several books, papers and reports on the subject. He is a member of the Hoover Shultz-Stephenson Task Force and the Board of Governors of Weizmann, Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

In 1981, he received an honorary degree from the University of Illinois-Chicagois a Fellow in the American Physical Society, serving as its president in 1986, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Science, the American Philosophical Society, and the Academia Europaea.

Drell and his wife, Harriet, have three grown children, Daniel, Persis and Joanna, and live in Palo Alto, Calif.


  • MS Physics, 1947
  • PhD Physics, 1949
  • Honorary Degree University of Illinois at Chicago, 1981