Howard Percy Robertson

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Howard Percy Robertson (January 27, 1903 – August 26, 1961) was an American mathematician and physicist known for contributions related to physical cosmology and the uncertainty principle. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[1][2][3]


Robertson was born in Hoquiam, Washington, and earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1922 and a master's in mathematics and physics in 1923 from the University of Washington in Seattle. He completed his PhD at Caltech in mathematics and physics in 1925 under Harry Bateman, with the dissertation, "On Dynamical Space-Times Which Contain a Conformal Euclidean 3-Space".[4][5]

Upon receipt of his doctorate, Robertson received a National Research Council Fellowship to study at the Georg-August University of Göttingen, the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, and Princeton University. At Munich, he was a postdoctoral student of Arnold Sommerfeld.[6]

One of Robertson's first landmark papers, a brief note in The Annals of Mathematics, series II, Vol 39, pp. 101–104 (1938) entitled "Note on the preceding paper: The two body problem in general relativity" solved that problem within a degree of approximation not improved on for several decades. Earlier work, such as the Schwarzschild metric, were for a central body that did not move, while Robertson's solution considered two bodies orbiting each other. Nevertheless, his solution failed to include gravitational radiation, so the bodies orbit forever, rather than approaching each other.

Aside from his work in physics, Robertson played a central role in American scientific intelligence during and after World War II. During the war years, Robertson was Chief American Liaison with British Scientific Intelligence, when he became close friends with Dr. Reginald Victor Jones.[7] Following the war, Robertson was a CIA classified employee and director of the Weapons System Evaluation Group in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.[8]

Notions named for Howard Percy Robertson[edit]


  1. ^ "MacTutor History of Mathematics: Howard Percy Robertson". November 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  2. ^ "Obituary: Howard P. Robertson". Physics Today 14 (11): 90. November 1961. doi:10.1063/1.3057266. 
  3. ^ Howard Percy RobertsonBiographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences
  4. ^ "The Archives Of The California Institute Of Technology: The Papers Of H. P. Robertson" (PDF). July 2002. p. iii. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  5. ^ Howard Percy Robertson at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  6. ^ I. I. Rabi, translated and edited by R. Fraser Code Stories from the early days of quantum mechanics, Physics Today (8) 36-41 (2006) p. 38.
  7. ^ Jones, Reginald Victor (1978), The wizard war: British scientific intelligence, 1939-1945, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, p. 378 .
  8. ^ "In memoriam: Howard P. Robertson", The Summer at Caltech, October 1961: 23 .

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