Obituary: Burton Richter

  • Obituary: Burton Richter
    Independent.t. E.
    Burton Richter, who died at the age of 87, shared the Nobel prize in 1976 with Sam ting, for their discovery of subatomic particles, which revolutionized the understanding of matter.
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Burton Richter, who died at the age of 87, shared the Nobel prize in 1976 with Sam ting, for their discovery of subatomic particles, which revolutionized the understanding of matter.

The hunt for the quark, now enshrined as one of the basic particles of matter began in the late 1960s, when scientists working on a 3-kilometer-long accelerator at Stanford University to the bombardment of protons (which is then considered as fundamental particles) with electrons.

The path of the electrons bounced off led them to the fact that there is little point in protons. In other words the “core” of the protons were made of even smaller particles. Currently it is agreed by these smaller particles-quarks-the building blocks of protons, neutrons and a variety of exotic particles known as mesons.

The theorists have been kicking around the concept of quarks for many years, but there were problems with the theory, and many scientists saw quarks as abstractions, not things that have no physical existence. So, the Stanford scientists have called these small particles “partons” – a term that did not carry the same theoretical baggage, like “quark”.

However, in 1974, everything changed. Two new particles were discovered: one, called psi, Richter at Stanford, using the new Stanford Positron Electron accelerating ring (which accelerated electrons and positrons in opposite directions in a circular ring to cause high-energy collisions producing new particles); the other, called the j, at Brookhaven National laboratory, on ting.

The two men met on November 11 and, as Richter recalled: “Sam told me, ‘Burt, I have some interesting physics to tell you about’. My answer was, ‘Sam, I have some interesting physics to tell you about!'”

He quickly decided that the two particles were the same, and after some debate the new particle became known as J/psi mesons.

Richter was surprised when the Stanford machine production of new particles. But the simultaneous opening of ting, using another procedure is to eliminate the possibility of error.

As it turned out, the strange behaviour of these new particles can be explained according to the theory of quarks, which meant that now there was only one way to understand all the other particles. Belief in quarks was not required.

In the “November revolution”, as it became known, marked the beginning of a new era of particle physics. Less than two years later, an unusually short period of time, Richter and ting was called to Stockholm.

Before Jay/psi discovery, the standard theory is composed of three quarks known as up, down and strange.

Some theorists have proposed that there must exist a fourth quark. They gave the whimsical name “charm” and it soon became clear that the J/PSI was made from a quark and the charm antiquark, each circling the other.

Burton Richter was born 22 March 1931 in Brooklyn in the textile and education school in the far Rockaway, Queens, at the Massachusetts Institute of technology, graduating in physics in 1952 and a doctorate in 1956.

He then came to Stanford University high energy physics laboratory, where he became assistant Professor of physics in 1960.

In 1963, he also joined the Stanford linear accelerator Center, where, in the early 1970-ies, he created the Stanford Positron electron accelerating ring.

In the 1980s, he oversaw the construction of the Stanford linear Collider, which was shot positrons and electrons at each other on a straight-line trajectories. He later turned to energy issues, becoming an advocate of nuclear power.

Richter, who died July 18, survived by his wife, Laurose, and a son and a daughter.

© The Telegraph

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