Internationally acclaimed physicist named FSU Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor

An internationally renowned physicist with an esteemed track record of research, teaching and service has been named Florida State University’s 2024-2025 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor. 

Harrison Prosper, a professor in the Department of Physics since 1993, has been recognized by FSU faculty members with the highest honor they can bestow upon one of their own. He is the fifth physics professor to receive the honor since the award’s inception in 1957. 

Prosper, a high-energy experimental physicist with an extraordinary international reputation, was in Geneva, Switzerland, at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, when FSU President McCullough called last week to tell him he’d won the Lawton. CERN is one of the world’s largest and most respected centers for scientific research. 

“Harrison Prosper is an incredible researcher who has contributed to groundbreaking scientific discoveries on the international stage,” said FSU President Richard McCullough. “His commitment to research excellence profoundly enriches our students’ learning experiences. He epitomizes leadership in his field on a global scale. 

Prosper was delighted by the recognition. 

“This recognition shows America at its very best, a land where opportunities still abound and where support by selfless individuals who insist on high standards can take a kid born in a shack on a tiny, impoverished island to where I am today,” Prosper said. 

Prosper, born on the Caribbean island of Dominica and educated in the United Kingdom, joined the university’s Physics department as an associate professor in August 1993 and was promoted to full professor five years later. From 2008-2018, Prosper led the department’s High Energy Physics group, helping to attract $10 million of federal funding to FSU. In 2009, he received the university’s Distinguished Research Professor award. 

“This recognition shows America at its very best, a land where opportunities still abound and where support by selfless individuals who insist on high standards can take a kid born in a shack on a tiny, impoverished island to where I am today.” — Harrison Prosper, 2024-2025 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor 

Highly regarded in his field, Prosper was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society (2002) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2014), and he won a High Energy and Particle Physics Prize from the European Physical Society in 2013. 

“To get respect and recognition from your peers is one of the most difficult processes and one of the greatest accomplishments you could hope for as an academic,” said Jim Clark, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “As a physicist, Professor Prosper has earned the highest respect from his colleagues internally and externally to the university. He’s a great teacher, he cares deeply about his field and his profession, and he cares deeply about FSU.”

Mark Riley, dean of The Graduate School, winner of the 2014-2015 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor award and Raymond K. Sheline Professor of Physics, wrote in his nomination letter that Prosper’s “brilliant scientific efforts have played a very major role in building the world-class reputation that the Physics department at FSU enjoys.”  


High energy physics, or particle physics, is primarily the study of the discovery and characterization of the fundamental constituents of matter and their interactions. Prosper has actively participated in four major discoveries: the first direct evidence of the gluon, the top quark, electroweak production of single top quarks, and the Higgs boson. 

In his nomination letter, Professor of Physics Todd Adams wrote that while each of the last three were discovered by large collaborations with hundreds or thousands of collaborators, Prosper was not just a member of the collaboration but a leader in the work on that discovery. 

The discovery of the Higgs boson was of particular importance for Prosper.  

Scientists François Englert and Peter W. Higgs independently proposed the existence of the Higgs boson, the particle that gives mass to electrons and other particles. But it was not proven until 2012, when Prosper and his colleagues at CERN discovered physical evidence of the particle.  

“I don’t know of any other physicist of his generation (or younger) who has such a record of discovery,” Adams wrote. 

Kirby W. Kemper, Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emeritus, who helped hire Prosper in the early 1990s, wrote that Prosper fulfills the criteria for the Lawton award “many times over.” In 2006, Prosper became the Kirby W. Kemper Professor of Physics. The professorship was endowed by Kemper’s family in 2016.  

Kemper applauded Prosper for his election in 2019 to a two-year term as chair of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Collaboration Board at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located at CERN.  

“This is an enormous recognition since CMS is a huge collaboration which includes over 4,000 scientists and engineers from over 50 countries,” Kemper wrote. 

As chair, he oversaw many aspects of the CMS experiment in a role that required around-the-clock management of different groups contributing to the project.  

“His almost bi-weekly flights to Geneva, Switzerland, would have worn out any of us yet he carried off this effort with his usual diplomatic grace,” Kemper wrote. 

Prosper also served on the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel and on its periodic subpanel P5 (Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel). Members are appointed to these panels by the leadership of the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation and advise on all aspects of high energy physics policy. 

Prosper’s teaching and research are interwoven, whether he’s teaching high school students in the FSU Young Scholars Program, teaching undergraduates or directing them in their research, or mentoring graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. 

“What I enjoy the most is interacting with the young people because not only are they the future, but there’s always this feeling that you might actually change the life of someone and that makes it all worthwhile,” Prosper said. 

Adams lauded Prosper’s teaching: “Harrison is one of FSU’s best teachers because he deeply cares about students’ learning. … Every semester he and I have multiple conversations delving into how either of us can improve our classes, and I know I always come away with a new idea or two.”  

At the university level, Prosper currently serves as a member of the Presidential and Rhodes Scholarship Committee, the University Promotion and Tenure Committee and the Distinguished Research Professor Committee, and he chairs the Research Computing Management Board. 

He also received nomination letters from colleagues at Imperial College London, UCLA, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Brookhaven National Lab.  

The Lawton Distinguished Professor Award was first presented in 1957 as the Distinguished Professor Award. It was renamed in honor of the late Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert O. Lawton in 1981. Prosper will be honored at events throughout the year and will give an address at fall commencement.