Martin L. Perl
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1995
Born: 24 June 1927, New York, NY, USA
Died: 30 September 2014, Palo Alto, CA, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
Prize motivation: “for the discovery of the tau lepton”
Prize share: 1/2
Martin Perl was born in Brooklyn and was of Russian-Jewish extraction. His father ran a printing business and his mother worked for a textile firm. He was a good student and won a physics prize in high school, but he thought no more of it because he did not believe one could make a living in research. He first studied to be a chemical engineer. He did not take up physics until later, at age 23. He received his doctorate at Columbia and later worked at the Stanford Linear Accelerator, where he remained for the rest of his life. He had three sons and one daughter.
According to modern physics, everything in the universe is composed of small building blocks—particles that can be arranged in a model with different families. Many particles do not exist in nature, but can be created in experiments where they quickly disintegrate into other particles, leaving trails behind them. In a series of experiments from 1974 to 1977 in which electrons and positrons were made to collide, Martin Perl discovered a new particle—the tau particle. The discovery meant that there was an additional family of particles alongside two previously known families.