7 Mar 2005 titus   » (Journeyer)

RIP: Hans Bethe

July 2nd, 1906 to March 6th, 2005.

Hans Bethe died last night at dinner, at the age of 98. He was one of the 20th century's greatest physicists; among his other accomplishments he received the Nobel Prize for describing the H --> He conversion that fueled our sun. Most physicists were probably surprised to learn that he was still alive; he was literally responsible for laying much of the groundwork in atomic and nuclear physics in the 1930s, and contributed immensely to many different areas of physics throughout the century.

He also collaborated closely with my father for almost 30 years. Some of their work is still moderately controversial (e.g. low mass black holes). He was hoping to live to see LIGO confirm some of their latest theories on neutron-star binary mergers, but that was not to be.

For many years (~1985-2000) he and my father travelled out to California to work at Caltech for a month each January. I got to know him a bit during those months, because he and often his wife Rose would stay with my father in the same apartment. He was always very mentally active, even as his physical abilities declined over the years. It was always tricky doing things like picking him up at the airport, because you wanted to be careful with this living legend! I knew that if I had an accident with him in the car, I'd be infamous throughout physics...

My friend Chris Adami has written a book called "Three Weeks with Hans Bethe and Gerry Brown", describing a short period in 1992 that Chris spent with Hans and my father. It captures Hans' intellectual depth and conversational style perfectly. I hope it will be published soon.

Hans is one of two or three people directly responsible for my entry into biology. He told me that when young scientists asked him what field he would go into were he starting in science now, he would emphatically respond "Biology!" He believed that biology would be the field with the next big achievements, and -- as always -- he was right.

I will miss him.


p.s. Wikipedia, as usual, is up to date...

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