Edwin Ernest Salpeter

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Edwin Ernest Salpeter ForMemRS[1] (3 December 1924, Vienna – 26 November 2008,[2][3] Ithaca, New York) was an Austrian–Australian–American astrophysicist.[4]


Born to a Jewish family, Salpeter emigrated from Austria to Australia while in his teens to escape the Nazis. He attended Sydney Boys High School (1939–40)[5] and Sydney University, where he obtained his bachelor's degree in 1944 and his master's degree in 1945. In the same year he was awarded an overseas scholarship and attended the University of Birmingham, England, where he earned his doctorate in 1948 under the supervision of Sir Rudolf Peierls. He spent the remainder of his career at Cornell University, where he was most recently the James Gilbert White Distinguished Professor of the Physical Sciences, Emeritus. Salpeter died of leukemia at his home in Ithaca on November 26, 2008.[citation needed]

In 1950 he married Miriam (Mika) Mark (1929–2000), a neurobiologist born in Riga, Latvia; she was chairwoman of the department of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell from 1982 to 1988.[6] The Society for Neuroscience created the Mika Salpeter award in her memory; it "recognizes an individual with outstanding career achievements in neuroscience who has also significantly promoted the professional advancement of women in neuroscience."[7] The Salpeters had two daughters, Judy Salpeter and Dr. Shelley Salpeter.

Scientific contributions[edit]

In 1951 Salpeter suggested that stars could burn helium-4 into carbon-12 with the Triple-alpha process not directly, but through an intermediate metastable state of beryllium-8, which helped to explain the carbon production in stars. He later derived the initial mass function for the formation rates of stars of different mass in the Galaxy.

Salpeter wrote with Hans Bethe two articles in 1951 which introduced the equation bearing their names, the Bethe–Salpeter equation which describes the interactions between a pair of fundamental particles under a quantum field theory.

In 1964 Salpeter and independently Yakov B. Zel'dovich were the first[8] to suggest that accretion discs around massive black holes are responsible for the huge amounts of energy radiated by quasars (which are the brightest active galactic nuclei). This is currently the most accepted explanation for the physical origin of active galactic nuclei and the associated extragalactic relativistic jets.[9]



  1. ^ Terzian, Y. (2010). "Edwin Ernest Salpeter. 3 December 1924 -- 26 November 2008". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 56: 391. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2010.0005. 
  2. ^ "Edwin E. Salpeter, Leader in Astrophysics Study, Dies at 83". NY Times. 2006. 
  3. ^ "Edwin E. Salpeter Dies at 83". Ithaca Journal. 2008-11-28. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  4. ^ Edwin E. Salpeter (1924 – 2008), American Astronomical Society
  5. ^ http://www.shsobu.org.au/wp-content/uploads/professors.pdf
  6. ^ Wolfgang Saxon, "Miriam M. Salpeter, 71, Expert On Neuromuscular Disorders", New York Times, October 28, 2000.
  7. ^ Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award.
  8. ^ Suzy Collin, Quasars and Galactic Nuclei, a Half-Century Agitated Story, 2006, preprint on arXiv.org
  9. ^ Peterson, B. M. An Introduction to Active Galactic Nuclei. 1.ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997
  10. ^ Walter, Claire (1982). Winners, the blue ribbon encyclopedia of awards. Facts on File Inc. p. 438. ISBN 9780871963864. 
  11. ^ "Edwin Salpeter wins Oppenheimer Prize". Physics Today. American Institute of Physics. March 1974. doi:10.1063/1.3128516. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 

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