Home / Science / Burton Richter, Nobel Prize winner physicist with influence in Washington, D.C. dies | science

Burton Richter, Nobel Prize winner physicist with influence in Washington, D.C. dies | science

Burton Richter ran the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center from 1984 to 1999.

Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service (CC BY-NC-SA)

8, 5:10 PM

Burton Richter, a Nobel Laureate particle physicist who also exercised a significant influence in science policy, died on July 18, the lab announced yesterday , He was 87 years old. In 1974 Richter's central scientific discovery laid the foundation for the standard model of fundamental particles and forces of physicists. In later years he played an important role in American science policy, including a restructuring of the Department of Energy that increased his scientific endeavors.

"The thing with Burt is that he never went out and said, 'That's what I do,' says Michael Lubell, a physicist at City College, New York and a former lobbyist for the American Physical Society (APS) in Washington , DC "He was pleased with the result."

Richter gained almost immediate scientific fame in 1974, when he and his team collapsed at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (now SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory) in Menlo Park, California, high-energy electrons and positrons to create a new particle that they called ψ. The discovery was the key, because the ψ proved to be a particle, the Charm Quark and its antimatter partner. At about the same time, a team at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, discovered the same particle they called J. The particle is still called J / ψ.

The discovery has greatly expanded the understanding of scientists called particles called quarks, which had been discovered at SLAC just a few years earlier. Physicists knew that two more familiar particles-protons and neutrons-consisted of trios of quarks. Two types of quarks, up quarks and down quarks, form protons and neutrons. The researchers also knew about a third type, the strange quark. The discovery of ψ confirmed a prediction of a fourth quark type. But more importantly, for a particular theory known as the GIM mechanism, the way in which the different types of quarks come in pairs and how they interact through the so-called weak nuclear force plays a role. Until then, ideas about what quarks were and how they behaved were all on the map, says Gordon Kane, a theorist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "That's the meaning of J / ψ," he says. "They went from n ideas, most of them half-baked, to an idea, the right one."

The results of SLAC and Brookhaven were confirmed at the same time. "It was a revolutionary moment, everyone was excited," says Sheldon Glashow, a theorist at Boston University and one of the inventors of the GIM mechanism. For the J / ψ discovery, Richter and Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge in 1976 shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. Physicists now know that there are six types of quarks in three pairs that predict how the GIM mechanism works. 19659005] In addition to his discovery Richter was known for his expertise in the construction of particle accelerators. He designed the Stanford positron electron accelerator ring (SPEAR), the collider with which his team discovered the J / ψ. Richter was also open to ideas from other areas, says Arthur Bienenstock, a solid-state physicist retired from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. For example, Richter was open to the simultaneous use of the SPEAR X-rays for experiments in solid state physics and materials science. Finally, SPEAR would become an X-ray source, known as the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), the world's first synchrotron radiation facility for users from the broader scientific community that led Hive from 1978 to 1997.

In later years, Richter's interest expanded to nuclear power, energy technology and climate change. Politicians in Washington, D.C., took his advice seriously, says Lubell. For example, when Lubell was at APS, he and Richter urged Congress and the White House to reorganize the Department of Energy to create a separate Secretary of State for Science, rather than just having a Secretary of State for the entire department. Efforts came to a head in 2005, Lubell recalls, as he and Richter visit Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. "Bodman listened attentively and said, 'You're right, we'll do it this way,'" says Lubell. In 2005, Congress passed a law that established the position.

Richter was also one of the few scientists who helped Barack Obama, the incoming government in 2008, to identify $ 20 billion worth of research projects across scientific disciplines. It would fund the US Recovery and Reinvestment Act. that Congress had decided in 2009 to alleviate the sudden slump in the economy.

Richter was tough, but always friendly and principled, others say. Bienenstock recalls that he and Richter regularly argued about sharing SLAC-Linac for the supply of SSRL, which was originally an independent national laboratory, and SLAC's particle physics experiments. But when the two laboratories were officially merged in 1992, Bienenstock said, judges fully supported SSRL and the two became good friends. "He was very gracious," says Beehive.

Glashow agrees. In 2016, he taught a course for a dozen freshman on energy issues and climate change and opted for Richter's 2010 book Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century . When Glass Show told Richter, Richter sent him 12 copies of the book, which were attached to each student personally.

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