Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Deceased--Maurice Goldhaber

Maurice Goldhaber
April 18th, 1911 to May 11th, 2011

"Maurice Goldhaber, Atomic Physicist, Is Dead at 100"


Kenneth Chang

May 17th, 2011

The New York Times

Maurice Goldhaber, a physicist who delved into the intricacies of atoms and headed the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island for more than a decade, died last Wednesday at his home in East Setauket, N.Y. He was 100.

Dr. Goldhaber was director of the Brookhaven lab from 1961 to 1973, overseeing experiments there that led to three Nobel Prizes.

His most famous contribution to science’s basic understanding of how the universe works involved the ghostly, perplexing subatomic particles known as neutrinos. Neutrinos, produced in the fusion of the Sun and other stars and in the radioactive decay of elements, flood the universe; trillions of them zip through every person every second.

In the late 1950s, physicists discovered that neutrinos, unlike anything else in the universe known until then, appeared to violate mirror symmetry.

That was odd and unexpected, because looking in a mirror does not usually alter the rules of physics. For example, consider an archer shooting an arrow. As the arrow flies through the air, one could imagine the tail feathers rotating clockwise. In the mirror image of the arrow’s motion, the tail feathers would rotate counterclockwise. In either case, the motion of the arrow fits with Newton’s law of motion.

But the mirror versions of neutrinos were found to behave differently compared with those that exist in the real world, though what the neutrinos were doing was not precisely clear.

Dr. Goldhaber devised an experiment that was simple, elegant and unusually small; unlike most particle physics research, which employs expensive, behemoth accelerators, this one fit on a tabletop. By observing neutrino-producing transmutations between two carefully chosen elements, Dr. Goldhaber and his collaborators showed that neutrinos, unlike arrows, always rotate in one direction (counterclockwise, it turned out) and never the other.

For physicists seeking to catalog and explain the particles that fill the universe, “It clarified the situation unequivocally,” said Peter Bond, a senior physicist at Brookhaven.

Maurice Goldhaber was born April 18, 1911, in Lemberg, Austria. After beginning his physics studies at the University of Berlin, he earned his doctorate at Cambridge in 1936. He and another Cambridge scientist, James Chadwick, were the first to measure accurately the mass of a neutron.

He moved to the University of Illinois in 1938 and joined Brookhaven in 1950.

Dr. Goldhaber was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His honors include the National Medal of Science in 1983, the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1991 and the Enrico Fermi Award in 1999.

Physics runs through the Goldhaber lineage. His younger brother, Gerson, who died last year, was part of a team at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California that confirmed the antiproton discovery.

His wife, Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber, was also a prominent nuclear physicist. One reason they moved to Brookhaven was that the laboratory offered both of them jobs; at Illinois, antinepotism laws dictated that she could not be hired on the faculty. She died in 1998.

Dr. Goldhaber’s son, Alfred Scharff Goldhaber, is a physics professor at Stony Brook University. A grandson, David Goldhaber-Gordon, is a physics professor at Stanford.

Dr. Goldhaber is also survived by another son, Michael H. Goldhaber, of Oakland, Calif.; a granddaughter; and four great-grandchildren.

Dr. Goldhaber officially retired in 1985 but continued to work at Brookhaven well into his 90s. “He had an idea a minute,” said Martin Blume, then editor in chief of the journals published by the American Physical Society. From about 2000 until 2008, he would drive Dr. Goldhaber to the lab each morning.

“I had a hard time keeping Maurice quiet,” Dr. Blume said. “He did not have very much sympathy for someone just trying to focus on getting there alive. Sometimes I had to put my hand across his face to stop him from talking.”

Dr. Goldhaber was also known among physicists for a bet he lost. At a party in 1954, he got into an argument with the host, Hartland Snyder, a theoretical physicist, over whether antiprotons — the antimatter version of protons — existed. “I don’t believe it until it is proven,” Dr. Goldhaber said to Dr. Snyder.

Dr. Snyder grabbed his hand and said, “ ‘I bet you $500 that the antiproton exists,’ ” Dr. Goldhaber recalled. “Without thinking, I said, ‘O.K.’ ”

Antiprotons were discovered the next year, and Dr. Goldhaber paid off the bet.

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