Physicist who found charm quark won Nobel
DR BURTON Richter, an American physicist who shared the 1976 Nobel Prize for discovering a subatomic particle, the curiously named “charm quark”, that became a foundation stone of the modern understanding of matter at its deepest levels, died in July 18 in Palo Alto, California. He was 87.
His death was announced by Stanford University, where he was a long-time professor.
In addition to serving as director of a major Department of Energy laboratory, Richter also became known in his later years for other contributions to academic and public life. Along with exerting influence in the US government on science matters, he published a book on climate change.
At Stanford, by first designing and financing, then building and finally using a high-energy particle accelerator and an advanced particle detector, Richter made a discovery that startled science.
In November 1974, he found the particle that confirmed the existence of what was known as the charm quark. It was the missing piece needed to adopt a new theory of the composition of matter at its most fundamental level.
His discovery, and the reassessments that it prompted, became known as the “November Revolution” recalling the “October Revolution” in Russia that changed 20th-century history.
At the same time, physicist Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made a similar discovery.
“The suddenness of the discovery coupled with the totally unexpected properties of the particle are what make it so exciting,” Richter and Ting jointly wrote in 1974.
“It is not like the particles we know and must have some new kinds of structure.”
Each scientist had found the first experimental traces of a sort of physicist’s grail – the eagerly sought charm quark. In particular, they had found a particle composed of a charm quark bound together with an anti-charm quark.
“It’s something that everybody hopes they’re going to do,” Richter later said, “and I was a lucky one because it happened.”
The two scientists shared the
1976 Nobel Prize for Physics. – Washington Post