I was born in Chicago,
Illinois on March 28, 1930, the second of two children of Selig
and Lillian Friedman, nee Warsaw, who were immigrants from
Russia. My father came to the United States in 1913 and later
served in the U.S. Army Artillery Corps in World War I. After the
war he was employed by the Singer Sewing Machine Co. and later
established his own business, repairing and selling used
commercial and home sewing machines. My mother arrived in the
United States in 1914 on one of the last voyages of the
Lusitania. She supported herself until she was married by working
in a garment factory. My parents had little formal education,
except for courses in English after they arrived in the United
States, but were self taught and had wide ranging interests. My
father was an avid reader, having interests in science and
political history, and our home was filled with books. My mother,
who had a lovely singing voice, loved music and, in particular,
opera. The education of my brother and myself was of paramount
importance to my parents, and in addition to their strong
encouragement, they were prepared to make any sacrifice to
further our intellectual development. When there were financial
difficulties they still managed to provide us with music and art
lessons. They greatly respected scholarship in itself, but they
also impressed upon us that there were great opportunities
available for those who were well educated. I received my primary
and secondary education in Chicago. As I very much liked to draw
and paint as a child, I entered a special art program in high
school, which was very much like being in an art school imbedded
in a regular high school curriculum. While I always had some
interest in science, I developed a strong interest in physics
when I was in high school as a result of reading a short book
entitled Relativity, by Einstein. It opened a new vista for me
and deepened my curiosity about the physical world. Instead of
accepting a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago Museum
School and against the strong advice of my art teacher, I decided
to continue my formal education and sought admission to the
University of Chicago because of its excellent reputation and
because Enrico Fermi taught
there. I was fortunate to have been accepted with a full
scholarship. As my parents had limited means, my university
training would not have been possible without such help. After
finishing my requirements in an highly innovative and
intellectually stimulating liberal arts program (established by
Robert M. Hutchins who was then President of the University), I
entered the Physics Department in 1950, receiving a Master's
degree in 1953 and a Ph.D. in 1956. It is difficult to convey the
sense of excitement that pervaded the Department at that time.
Fermi's brilliance, his stimulating, crystal clear lectures that
he gave in numerous seminars and courses, the outstanding faculty
in the Department, the many notable physicists who frequently
came to visit Fermi, and the pioneering investigations of pion
proton scattering at the newly constructed cyclotron all combined
to create an especially lively atmosphere. I was indeed fortunate
to have seen the practice of physics carried out at its "very
best" at such an early stage in my development. I also had the
great privilege of being supervised by Fermi, and I can remember
being overwhelmed with a sense of my good fortune to have been
given the opportunity to work for this great man. It was a
remarkably stimulating experience that shaped the way I think
about physics. My thesis project was an investigation in nuclear
emulsion of proton polarization produced in scattering from
nuclei at cyclotron energies. The objective was to determine
whether the polarization resulted from elastic or inelastic
scattering. Professor Fermi tragically died in 1954 after a short
illness. What an immense loss it was to all of us. My thesis work
was not yet completed, and John Marshall kindly took over my
supervision and signed my thesis. After I received my Ph.D., I
continued working as a post-doc at the University of Chicago
nuclear emulsion laboratory, which was then led by Valentine
Telegdi. That year Val Telegdi and I did an emulsion experiment
in which we searched for parity violation in muon decay. We were
one of the first groups to observe this surprising effect which
had been suggested by T.D. Lee and
C.N. Yang. Val was not only an excellent mentor but he was
instrumental in getting me my first real job with Robert
In 1957, I joined Hofstadter's group at the High Energy Physics Laboratory at Stanford University as a Research Associate. This was where I learned counter physics and the techniques of electron scattering. While there I did a number of experiments studying elastic and inelastic electrondeuteron scattering. In an experiment to measure a weighted sum-rule for inelastic electron deuteron scattering which was related to the n-p interaction I had to confront the problem of making radiative corrections to inelastic spectra, and I developed a technique which proved to be valuable in my later work. Henry Kendall independently developed a similar technique and later we combined efforts to develop a radiative corrections program for our deep inelastic scattering work at SLAC. It was in Hofstadter's group that I began my long collaboration with Henry Kendall who was also a member of the group. During this period I became acquainted with Richard Taylor, who was just finishing his thesis in another group, and with other future collaborators in the deep inelastic program at SLAC, Dave Coward and Hobey DeStacbler. One of the highlights of this period was attending the wonderfully informal and informative high energy physics seminars in the home of W.K.H. Panofsky, who was Director of the Laboratory.
In 1960, I was hired as a faculty member in the Physics Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When I arrived I joined David Ritson's research group. A short time later he accepted a position at Stanford University and I inherited a small group. With these resources I soon began working on collaborative effort to measure muon pair production at the Cambridge Electron Accelerator (CEA) in order to test the validity of Quantum Electro-Dynamics. Henry Kendall joined my group in 1961 and we have been collaborators at MIT since that time. The last measurement we did at the CEA was a measurement of the deuteron form factor at the highest momentum transfers that could be reached at that accelerator to get some limits on the size of relativistic effects and meson currents.
In 1963, Henry Kendall and I started a collaboration with W.K.H. Panofsky, Richard Taylor and other physicists from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and the California Institute of Technology to develop electron scattering facilities for a physics program at the Stanford Linear Accelerator, a 20 GeV electron linac that was being constructed under the leadership of Panofsky. This required that we both travel between MIT and SLAC on a regular basis. The MIT Physics Department gave us special support by reducing our teaching responsibilities. We soon set up a small MIT group at SLAC and for extended periods of time one of us was always there. We had a rare opportunity. We were part of a group of physicists who were provided a new accelerator, given the support to design and construct optimal experimental facilities, and had the opportunity to participate in the exploration of a new energy range with electrons. From 1967 to about 1975 the MIT and SLAC groups carried out a series of measurements of inelastic electron scattering from the proton and neutron which provided the first direct evidence of the quark sub-structure of the nucleon. It was a very exciting time for all of us. This program is described in detail in the adjoining Physics Nobel Lectures.
As the program at SLAC was nearing completion we joined a collaborative effort at Fermilab involving a number of institutions to build a beam line and a single-arm spectrometer in the Meson Laboratory. During the latter half of the 1970's this collaboration carried out a series of experiments to investigate elastic scattering, Feynman scaling and production mechanisms in inclusive hadron scattering. When this work was completed, our group joined another collaboration to build a large neutrino detector at Fermilab. The objective of this program was to study the weak neutral currents in measurements of inclusive neutrino and anti-neutrino nucleon scattering, which were done in the first half of the 1980's. These investigations confirmed the predictions of the Standard Model.
In 1980, I became Director of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science at MIT and then served as Head of the Physics Department from 1983 to 1988. During the time I was in these administrative positions I managed to maintain a foothold in research, which greatly eased my transition back to full-time teaching and research in 1988. While it was a very interesting period in my life, I was happy to get back to more direct contact with students in the classroom and in my research projects. Currently, our MIT group is participating in the construction of a large detector to study electron-positron annihilations at the Stanford Linear Collider and has also been engaged in design work for a detector for the Superconducting Super Collider, which is now under construction.
Over the years I have served on a number of program and scientific policy advisory committees at various accelerators. I also was a member of the Board of the University Research Association for six years, serving as Vice President for three years. I am currently a member of the High Energy Advisory Panel for the Department of Energy and also Chairman of the Scientific Policy Committee of the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory.
Experimental high energy physics research is a group effort. I have been very fortunate to have had outstanding students and colleagues who have made invaluable contributions to the research with which I have been associated. I thank them not only for their contributions, but also for their friendship.
My life has been enhanced by my marriage to Tania Letetsky-Baranovsky who has broadened my horizons and has been an unfaltering source of support. She has endured with cheerful resignation my many absences when I have had to travel to distant particle accelerators. There are four grown children in our family, Ellena, Joel, Martin, and Sandra who pursue their activities in various parts of the country.
With regard to my non-vocational activities, in addition to getting much pleasure from various cultural activities, such as theater, music, ballet, etc., I enjoy painting and study Asian ceramics.
From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1990, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1991
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures/The Nobel Prizes. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1990