Termed the BCS theory, an acronym formed from the initial letters of its originators surnames, it is heavily based on a phenomenon known as Cooper pairing. According to the theory, the electrons in a superconducting material form associated pairs that together act as a single system. Unless the movement of all pairs is halted simultaneously, the current flowing through a superconductor meets no resistance, and will continue ad infinitum.
Cooper was born on February 28, 1930, in New York City. After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science, he began studies at Columbia University. He received a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. there, formally completing his education in 1954. Cooper worked briefly at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, the University of Illinois, and Ohio State University before accepting a position at Brown University, where he still teaches. Cooper has advanced through the faculty ranks, being appointed Henry Ledyard Goddard University Professor in 1966 and Thomas J. Watson, Sr. Professor of Science in 1974.
Cooper was a research assistant at the University of Illinois when he participated in the theoretical explanation of superconductivity, which had been largely shrouded in mystery since its discovery in 1911 by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. The BCS theory was announced in 1957, when Cooper was still in his twenties. It applies only to low temperature superconductors; when the temperature of these materials increases too far above absolute zero, Cooper pairs break down.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Cooper has received many other honors, including the Comstock Prize, the Award of Excellence, the Descartes Medal, the John Jay Award and numerous honorary degrees. He has also accepted several fellowships and is a member of many prestigious scientific societies and organizations. He is on the governing board and executive committee of the International Neural Network Society. This work reflects Cooper’s longtime interest in neuroscience, a field to which he has actively contributed throughout his career at Brown. Cooper has served as the first director of the university's Center for Neural Science.