Kurt Gottfried

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Kurt Gottfried
Born 1929 (age 87–88)
Vienna, Austria
Nationality American
Alma mater McGill University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Thesis Investigations based on the Bohr-Mottelson nuclear model (1955)
Doctoral advisor Victor Weisskopf
External video
Kurt Gottfried, “Science Policy, Politics and Human Rights”, 2005, MIT

Kurt Gottfried (born 1929) is professor emeritus of physics at Cornell University, known for his work in the areas of quantum mechanics and particle physics. He is also a co-founder with Henry Way Kendall of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He has written extensively in the areas of physics and arms control.

Early life and education[edit]

Gottfried was born in Vienna, Austria in 1929. In 1939, after their home in Austria was raided on Kristallnacht, his family emigrated to Montreal, Canada.[1] Gottfried attended McGill University, studying both theoretical and engineering physics.[2][3]

Gottfried studied with Victor Weisskopf at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1952 to 1955, completing his Ph.D. thesis, Investigations Based on the Bohr-Mottelson Nuclear Model.[2] There he studied deformed nuclei, developing models to describe wave functions and energy levels associated with nucleonic motion in a nonspherical force field, and comparing the results of those models to empirical data.[4][5] His roommate at MIT was Henry Kendall.[1]


Gottfried married Sorel Dickstein in 1955.[1][6] He then held short-term academic positions at Harvard University (1955–1958), CERN, the Niels Bohr Institute, and again at Harvard (1961–1964) before accepting a position in the physics department at Cornell University in 1964.[2]

Gottfried became an associate professor at Cornell in 1964, a professor in 1968, and professor emeritus in 1998.[7] He was a visiting professor at MIT from 1968-1969, and took a leave of absence to work at CERN from 1970-1973.[2] He served as Department Chair of the Physics department at Cornell University from 1991-1994.[7]


Gottfried worked with J. David Jackson in the 1960s on production and decay of unstable resonances in high-energy hadronic collisions.[8] They introduced the use of the density matrix to connect production mechanisms to the decay patterns and described the influence of competing processes ("absorption") on the reactions.[9] Gottfried studied meson-nucleon reactions, high-energy electron-proton scattering and the spectroscopy of heavy-quark bound states; and proposed the Gottfried sum rule for deep inelastic scattering to test the elementary quark model.[10][11][12] Gottfried's Quantum Mechanics: Fundamentals, originally published in 1966, is considered "one of the most used and respected accounts of quantum theory".[13]

Gottfried is known for his work in the 1970s on charmonium, with Estia J. Eichten, Toichiro Kinoshita, Ken Lane and Tung-Mow Yan.[14][15][16]

Gottfried served as chair of the Division of Particles and Fields of the American Physical Society in 1981.[7] With Victor Weisskopf, he wrote Concepts of Particle Physics (1984), which was hailed as "An authoritative presentation of the basic concepts of particle physics by two internationally recognized leaders in the field."[17]

Quantum Mechanics: Fundamentals was one of the influences spurring John Stewart Bell to write his polemical ‘Against measurement’ (1990). Since Bell's death, Gottfried has become one of his major commentators.[13][18] The second edition of Quantum Mechanics: Fundamentals, co-authored with Tung-Mow Yan, "is of exceptional interest, historical and otherwise".[13][19]

Union of Concerned Scientists[edit]

He is a co-founder of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).[20][21] The organization was first formed on March 4, 1969, when Gottfried, Kendall and other faculty at MIT organized a "teach-in" during which regular research would stop, and students and faculty would examine "misuse of scientific and technical knowledge" that "presents a major threat to the existence of mankind."[21][22] Concerns included the Vietnam war, nuclear weapons, and environmental issues.[20]

"We are immersed in one of the most significant revolutions in man’s history. The force that drives this revolution is . . . relentless exploitations of scientific knowledge. That many of the transformations [from this revolution] have been immeasurably beneficial goes without saying. But, as with all revolutions, the technological revolution has released destructive forces and our society has failed to cope with them."—Kurt Gottfried, March 4, 1969[1]

Gottfried has served on the board of directors of the UCS since 1978[2] and as its Vice-Chairman[2] and Chairman (1999–2009).[23][24] Issues of particular concern to Gottfried are nuclear arms control,[2] scientific integrity in the face of government pressure,[1] and human rights.[2]

In 1982, Gottfried and Hans Bethe drafted a letter to Leonid Brezhnev protesting Soviet treatment of peace activists in the Soviet Union.[25] As a member of the executive committee of SOS (Scientists For Sakharov, Orlov And Shcharansky)[26] Gottfried helped lead successful efforts to bring dissident scientist Yuri Orlov out of exile in Siberia, and offer him a position at Cornell,[27][28] which Orlov accepted.[29]

Gottfried, Kendall, Hans Bethe, Richard Garwin and others strongly critiqued the U.S. "Star Wars" missile defense program.[30] Gottfried also co-edited Crisis Stability And Nuclear War (1988).[31] The American Academy of Arts and Sciences cooperated with Cornell University's Peace Studies Program to sponsor a study on nuclear weapons and the command and control systems of the United States and the Soviet Union.[32] Gottfried and Bruce G. Blair edited the resulting book, representing the thinking of fifteen leading analysts.[33]

In 2004, Gottfried drafted the USC statement Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making, which criticized the Bush administration and called for "restoration of scientific integrity in the United States".[23] It was released on February 18, 2004, and supported by two UCS reports: Scientific Integrity in Policy Making: An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science and Scientific Integrity in Policy Making: Further investigation of the Bush administration's abuse of science.[34]

Awards and honors[edit]

Gottfried is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the 1992 Leo Szilard Award.[35] He is also a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.[36]


  1. ^ a b c d e "[MEMBER PROFILE] The Original Concerned Scientist: Kurt Gottfried". Catalyst. Fall. 2015. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Stefan, V., ed. (1997). Physics and society: essays in honor of Victor Frederick Weisskopf. Woodbury, N.Y.: AIP Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-1563963865. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  3. ^ Jackson, J. David (December 1999). "Snapshots of a Physicist's Life". Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science. 49 (1): 1–33. Bibcode:1999ARNPS..49....1J. doi:10.1146/annurev.nucl.49.1.1. Retrieved 26 March 2016. 
  4. ^ Gottfried, Kurt (1955). Investigations Based on the Bohr-Mottelson Nuclear Model (Ph.D. Thesis). Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  5. ^ Gottfried, Kurt (15 August 1956). "Ground-State Properties of Nonspherical Nuclei". Physical Review. 103 (4): 1017–1031. Bibcode:1956PhRv..103.1017G. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.103.1017. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  6. ^ "Montreal Jewry mourns communal leader". The Canadian Jewish Chronicle. March 2, 1956. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c "Kurt Gottfried Professor of Physics Emeritus". Cornell University. Department of Physics. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  8. ^ Gottfried, K.; Jackson, J. D. (1964). "On the connection between production mechanism and decay of resonances at high energy". Nuovo Cimento. 33 (2): 309–330. doi:10.1007/BF02750195. 
  9. ^ Gottfried, K.; Jackson, J. D. (1964). "Influence of absorption due to competing processes on peripheral reactions". Nuovo Cimento. 34 (3): 735–752. doi:10.1007/BF02750013. 
  10. ^ Watson, Andrew (2008). The Quantum Quark. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. p. 337. ISBN 9780521089838. 
  11. ^ Gottfried, Kurt (19 June 1967). "Sum Rule for High-Energy Electron-Proton Scattering". Physical Review Letters. 18 (25): 1174–1177. Bibcode:1967PhRvL..18.1174G. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.18.1174. 
  12. ^ Hafemeister, David (2002). "Life Views and Particle Physics". APS Forum on Physics and Society. 31 (1). 
  13. ^ a b c Whitaker, A (27 February 2004). "Quantum Mechanics: Fundamentals". Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and General. 37 (8): 3073–3076. Bibcode:2004JPhA...37.3073G. doi:10.1088/0305-4470/37/8/B01. Retrieved 26 March 2016. 
  14. ^ E. Eichten; K. Gottfried; T. Kinoshita; J. Kogut; K. D. Lane; T.-M. Yan (1975). "Spectrum of Charmed Quark-Antiquark Bound States". Physical Review Letters. 34 (6): 369–372. Bibcode:1975PhRvL..34..369E. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.34.369. 
  15. ^ E. Eichten; K. Gottfried; T. Kinoshita; K. D. Lane; T.-M. Yan (1978). "Charmonium: The Model". Physical Review. D17 (11): 3090–3117. Bibcode:1978PhRvD..17.3090E. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.17.3090. 
  16. ^ E. Eichten; K. Gottfried; T. Kinoshita; K. D. Lane; Tung-Mow Yan (1980). "Charmonium: Comparison With Experiment". Physical Review. D21: 203–233. Bibcode:1980PhRvD..21..203E. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.21.203. 
  17. ^ "Concepts of Particle Physics". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 26 March 2016. 
  18. ^ Bell, M.; Gottfried, K.; Veltman, M. (2001). John S. Bell on the foundations of quantum mechanics. Singapore: World Scientific. ISBN 978-9810246884. 
  19. ^ Kurt Gottfried; Tung-Mow Yan (2004). Quantum Mechanics: Fundamentals. Graduate Texts in Contemporary Physics (Second ed.). Springer. ISBN 0-387-22023-2. 
  20. ^ a b Kendall, Henry W. (2000). A distant light : scientists and public policy. New York: Springer. ISBN 9780387988337. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  21. ^ a b Allen, Jonathan, ed. (1970). March 4 : scientists, students and society. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 
  22. ^ Balogh, Brian (1993). Chain Reaction : Expert Debate and Public Participation in American Commercial Nuclear Power, 1945-75. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521457361. 
  23. ^ a b "About Kurt Gottfried". Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  24. ^ Gold, Lauren (13 February 2007). "Salpeter and Gottfried sign letter urging Congress to pass binding resolution against nuclear weapons". Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  25. ^ "Arms control advocates protest harassment of Soviet peace group". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: 62–63. Nov 1982. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  26. ^ "Collection Guide to Register of the Scientists For Sakharov, Orlov And Shcharansky Records, 1975–2010". Online Archive of California. Retrieved 26 March 2016. 
  27. ^ "OFFER TO ORLOV OPEN". Sun Sentinel. October 9, 1986. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  28. ^ "Soviet dissident Orlov takes Cornell position". Schenectady Gazette (10). December 24, 1986. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  29. ^ Gold, Lauren (November 14, 2005). "First Andrei Sakharov Prize for human rights goes to Cornell physicist and former Soviet gulag prisoner Yuri Orlov". Cornell Chronicle. 
  30. ^ "Reagan's Star Wars". New York Review of Books. April 26, 1984. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  31. ^ Gottfried, Kurt; Blair, Bruce G., eds. (1988). Crisis stability and nuclear war. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195051476. 
  32. ^ Solomon, Fredric; Marston, Robert Q. (1986). Medical Implications of Nuclear War. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. 
  33. ^ Taylor, Brendan; Farrely, Nicholas; Lee, Sheryn (2012). Insurgent intellectual : essays in honour of Professor Desmond Ball. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 62. ISBN 978-981-4414-62-3. 
  34. ^ "Scientific Integrity in Policy Making (2004)". Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  35. ^ "Forum on Physics and Society: Leo Szilard Lectureship Award". American Physical Society. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  36. ^ "Why does Council on Foreign Relations keep popping up?". Democratic Underground. 

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