Robert Marshak

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Robert Elliot Marshak
Robert E. Marshak Los Alamos ID.png
8th President of City College of New York
In office
Preceded byBuell G. Gallagher
Succeeded byBernard W. Harleston
President of the American Physical Society
In office
Preceded byMaurice Goldhaber
Succeeded byMildred Dresselhaus
Personal details
BornOctober 11, 1916
DiedDecember 23, 1992 (1992-12-24) (aged 76)

Robert Elliot Marshak (October 11, 1916 – December 23, 1992) was an American physicist dedicated to learning, research, and education.


Marshak was born in the Bronx, New York City. His parents, Harry and Rose Marshak, were immigrants from Minsk. He went to the City College of New York for one semester and then "received a Pulitzer Scholarship which provided full tuition and a stipend which allowed him to continue his education at Columbia University."[1]

In 1939, Marshak received his Ph.D. from Cornell University. Along with his thesis advisor, Hans Bethe, he discovered many of the fusion aspects involved in star formation. This helped him on his work for the Manhattan Project, in Los Alamos, during World War II.

In 1947, at the Shelter Island Conference, Marshak presented his two-meson hypothesis about the pi-meson, which were discovered shortly thereafter.[2]

In 1957, he and George Sudarshan proposed a V-A ("vector" minus "axial vector") Lagrangian for weak interactions, which was later presented by Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann. It is known that Murray Gell-Mann had learned the theory from George Sudarshan. Similarly, Richard Feynman learned about the theory from a discussion with Marshak in a conference. "Perhaps Marshak's most significant scientific contribution was the proposal of the V-A Theory of Weak Interactions (the fourth force in nature) in collaboration with his student George Sudarshan. Unfortunately, the pair published the theory only in a conference proceedings for a meeting in Italy. Six months later, a different derivation of the same concept was published by Feynman and Gell-Mann in a mainstream scientific journal. Marshak had talked with Feynman about the general problem in California some time before. Though the V-A Concept was considered to be one of the most important contributions to theoretical physics, a Nobel Prize was never awarded for it." Sudarshan commented in a 2006 TV interview that Murray Gell-Mann got the idea from him during an informal coffee time.

From 1956 to 1970, he was chairman of the University of Rochester Department of Physics. From 1970 to 1979, he was president of the City College of New York.[3]

Marshak shared the 1982 J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize with Maurice Goldhaber.[4]

Marshak died by accidental drowning in Cancún, Mexico. In addition to Sudarshan, his doctoral students include Susumu Okubo, Rabindra Mohapatra and Tullio Regge.


  1. ^ Collections, Special. "Robert E. Marshak: A Brief Biography". Virginia Tech. Retrieved 4 August 2014. External link in |website= (help)
  2. ^ Mehra, Jagdish (1994). The Beat of a Different Drum: The life and science of Richard Feynman. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press. pp. 245–249. ISBN 978-0-19-853948-3.
  3. ^ Daniels, Lee A. (25 December 1992). "Robert E. Marshak, 76, Ex-Head of City College". NY Times.
  4. ^ "Oppenheimer Prize awarded to Goldhaber and Marshak". Physics Today. 35 (9): 89. September 1982. Bibcode:1982PhT....35i..89.. doi:10.1063/1.2915276.

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