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Physicist, Activist Panofsky Dies at 88

September 29, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO – Wolfgang K.H. Panofsky, a physicist who was a consultant on the Manhattan Project and devoted much of his life to promoting nuclear arms control, has died. He was 88.

Panofsky, affectionally known as “Pief,” had a heart attack Monday in Los Altos, Stanford University officials said.

“He was a towering figure, admired greatly not only as a great scientist and a leader, but as a man deeply committed to principle, and to the issue of arms control,” said Sidney Drell, a professor who works at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, a lab Panofsky was instrumental in developing.

He won the National Medal of Science in 1969 and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Enrico Fermi Award in 1979, and he played a key role in shaping the government’s science and nuclear policies.

“He was moved by a deep ethical concern,” Drell said. “He had worked on the atom bomb project, and understood what would be the effect of a nuclear war. He was profoundly committed to enhancing prospects of peace.”

Panofsky was born in Berlin on April 24, 1919, the son of prominent art historian Erwin Panofsky. He showed scientific promise at an early age. After his father, fearing for his Jewish family’s well-being in mid-1930′s Germany, accepted a teaching post in the United States, Panofsky attended Princeton University. He enrolled at 15 and after graduation pursued a doctorate at the California Institute of Technology.

He received his doctorate in 1942 and married Adele Irene DuMond, the daughter of the physicist in whose lab he had worked as a graduate student. At first classified as an “enemy alien” under California’s wartime enemy exclusion law, he soon became a naturalized citizen and worked from 1943 to 1945 as a consultant on the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb.

He showed his leadership skills in his first professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. Particle physics was a nascent field, and Panofsky was exploring some of the earliest particle accelerators.

In 1951, he resigned in protest when the university’s Board of Regents required faculty members to sign an oath of loyalty. He joined Stanford, where he took a key role in building a larger, higher-energy accelerator.

His work ultimately led to congressional authorization of the 2-mile-long electron linear accelerator at the heart of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, in 1961. Three Nobel prizes emerged from research promoted by Panofsky over the more than two decades he was lab director.

He was a tireless adviser to presidents Eisenhower through Carter and important figures in their administrations on issues of international security. Notable achievements included helping to secure the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, in 1963, and the signing of the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, in 1972.

He also helped found the Center for International Security and Arms Control in his later years at Stanford.

Panofsky also pushed for scientific openness and exchange with researchers in the former Soviet Union and in China.




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