Maurice Goldhaber, 1998


For his lifetime of distinguished research in nuclear and particle physics, including his experiments providing key support for the standard model, and for his superb contribution to science by his leadership and vision as a manager of research. His ideas and research results have had a wide impact not only on physics and other science, but also on medicine and technology.


Maurice Goldhaber's remarkable achievements in research, teaching, and administration have made him one of the world's most distinguished nuclear and particle physicists. In 1934, as a 23-year-old graduate student at Ernest Rutherford's Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, Goldhaber approached James Chadwick with the idea of photodisintegrating the recently discovered deuteron, telling Chadwick that this would be a good way of measuring the mass of the neutron, a considerably controversial topic at the time. Chadwick was enthusiastic about the idea and Goldhaber's experimental career was launched. He and Chadwick were the first to obtain a sufficiently accurate mass of the neutron to conclude that the neutron was not a compound of a proton and electron but really a new particle. From this work came the deduction that neutrons were probably unstable, discovered later as a property of all new particles, and was thus a landmark result for the development of modern nuclear and particle physics. Goldhaber and Chadwick were also first to find that some light nuclei break up when bombarded by slow neutrons: Lithium-6 yielding Hydrogen-3, which decays into Helium-3; Boron-10 emitting Helium-4; and Nitrogen-14 changing into Carbon-14. Goldhaber later worked with his students on scattering and absorption of slow neutrons to show that beryllium could be a useful moderator for neutrons. His neutron work has had important applications in science and technology.

From 1938 to 1950 at the University of Illinois, Goldhaber pursued a wide variety of research problems in nuclear physics, including excitation of nuclei with x-rays, resonant scattering of slow neutrons, nuclear decay schemes, and isomeric transitions. Goldhaber worked with wife, the late Gertrude Scharff-Goldhaber, to prove that beta-rays are identical to atomic electrons. With Edward Teller, he developed the concept of coherent oscillations of the protons and neutrons in nuclei leading to the giant dipole resonance.

After joining Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1950, Goldhaber and Kenneth Bainbridge gave the first demonstration that the electronic environment of an atom can influence isomeric decay probability.

In 1954, Goldhaber first questioned whether protons could decay, a query still pursued today. During 1956-58, Goldhaber, Grodzins, and Sunyar performed a brilliant experiment that showed conclusively that the neutrino is created with negative helicity (a left-handed screw driven forward). This provided conclusive evidence for the Vector-Axial Vector theory of weak interactions that is an integral part of today's Standard Model. This thought revolution led to the overthrow of parity conservation in the weak interactions (a fundamental symmetry principle that had guided thinking up to that time).

Shortly after Goldhaber's work on neutrino helicity, he became Chairman of the Physics Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and was soon thereafter selected as Director of the Laboratory. A "hands-on" type of director, Goldhaber instigated and presided over an extraordinary period of scientific productivity at Brookhaven. As a measure of the general scientific ambiance he provided, three Nobel Prizes were awarded in high energy physics for work at the laboratory during his tenure. The medical research that indicated the substantial role of sodium concentration in the development of hypertension in sensitive subjects and the value of the drug L-dopa in treating Parkinsonism and related diseases was also conducted at the laboratory during that time.

After Goldhaber's retirement from Brookhaven, he joined the Irvine-Michigan-Brookhaven (IMB) underground detector collaboration. IMB obtained an upper limit on the rate of proton decay. Both Kamiokande in Japan and IMB saw the beautiful neutrino signal that resulted from the supernova explosion known as "Supernova 1987A." He is now a member of a large contingent of American physicists who collaborate with Japanese colleagues at SuperKamiokande, where proton decay and neutrino oscillations are being studied. Recently, evidence for neutrino oscillations was obtained there, implying that neutrinos have mass.

Maurice Goldhaber was born in Lemberg, Austria, in 1911. He earned his Ph.D. in Physics in 1936 at Cambridge University, where he continued as the Charles Kingley Bye Fellow of Magdalene College until 1938. In 1938, he moved to the United States as Assistant Professor in physics at the University of Illinois, becoming Professor in 1945. In 1950, he moved to Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he became Chairman of the Department of Physics (1960), and Director (1961-73). Also, he was a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, England (1967), and is an Adjunct Professor at the University of New York at Stony Brook from 1961 to the present. Currently, he is Distinguished Scientist Emeritus, Brookhaven Science Associates.

Goldhaber is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (of which he was President in 1983), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Goldhaber has received many honors, including the Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics (American Physical Society, 1971); U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Citation for Meritorious Contributions (1973); honorary Ph.D., Tel-Aviv University (1974); honorary Doctor, University of Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium (1982); J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize (1982); honorary Doctor of Science, State University of New York at Stony Brook (1983); National Medal of Science (1983); American Academy of Achievement Award (1985); Royal Society Rutherford Memorial Lecturer (Canada, 1987); Rossi Prize of American Astronomical Society, High Energy Astrophysics Division (shared as member of Irvine-Michigan-Brookhaven collaboration, 1989); Wolf Prize in Physics (Israel, 1991); and honorary Doctor of Science, University of Notre Dame, 1992.

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