I was born in Paterson, New Jersey on March 16, 1918, the youngest of four children. My parents, Israel and Gussie (Cohen), had met and married in New York City after emigrating to the United States from the same small town in Russia. A paternal relative in Russia, the Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines (1839-1915), was famous for his role in founding the Religious Zionist movement, Mizrachi. Manually very skilled and to some extent a frustrated machinist, my father worked as a weaver before World War I, started a silk mill business after the war, and eventually moved to Hillburn, New York, where he ran a general store. My early childhood memories center around this typical American country store and life in a small American town, including 4th of July celebrations marked by fireworks and patriotic music played from a pavilion bandstand. As a child, I enjoyed building things and participating in group singing in school. Music, and singing in particular, was to become a central lifelong interest of mine. The first stirrings of interest in science that I remember occurred during a moment of boredom at religious school, when, looking out of the window at twilight through a hand curled to simulate a telescope, I noticed something peculiar about the light; it was the phenomenon of diffraction. That began for me a fascination with light.
My early education was strongly influenced by my older siblings. Our home had many books due principally to the educational interests of my sister and two brothers, all of whom where serious students engaged in professional studies; my sister became a doctor of medicine and my brothers became lawyers. Among my activities was membership in the Boy Scouts; I rose each year through the ranks, eventually achieving the rank of Eagle Scout and undertaking leadership roles in the organization. My scientific interests also blossomed during this time in the Boy Scouts, where I began to build crystal radios “from scratch.” By this time the family had returned to New Jersey, and I was a student at Union Hill High School. In school, I was initially more attracted to literary interests and did not do as well in science studies. However, by my junior and senior years in high school this situation turned around aufficiently to point me in the direction of science. I was strongly encouraged by a science teacher who took an interest in me and presented me with a key to the laboratory to allow me to work whenever I wanted. I also served as Editor-in-Chief of the high school year book. In response to the year book query to students about their principal ambition, my entry was: “To be a physicist extraordinaire.”
When time arrived to select a college for study in science or engineering, I initially aimed to go to MIT, and was accepted and advised to apply for a scholarship based on my grades. However, I had a chance encounter with an admissions officer of Stevens Institute of Technology, who so impressed me by his erudition and enthusiasm for the school that I changed course and entered Stevens Institute. There, in addition to engineering studies, I participated in the dramatic society and in a dance group performance. But the college activity that I engaged in which was to have a long-standing attraction to me was singing in the chorus, where I performed solo roles in major pieces, including Händel’s “Messiah”. My voice and ear for music were sufficiently highly regarded that I was encouraged by the leader of the chorus to take lessons with a well-known voice coach at the Metropolitan Opera. Since, as a student, I could not afford to pay for lessons, they were eventually provided to me free of charge. Between college and graduate school, I even thought briefly about pursuing a professional singing career, but ultimately decided against it.
The interests in music and drama that I developed in college have persisted throughout my life. Years later, while working in Los Alamos, I sang solos with the town chorus and performed with the dramatic society; my dramatic roles included the lead role in “Inherit the Wind.” I also sang in performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in Los Alamos. My discovery of Gilbert and Sullivan had also occurred while I was in college, and I have enjoyed occasionally entertaining colleagues and friends with G & S lyrics. The peak of my musical endeavors occurred during the period I lived in Cleveland, when I performed with the chorus of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Robert Shaw and orchestra conductor George Szell.
I received my undergraduate degree in engineering in 1939 and a Master of Science degree in mathematical physics in 1941 at Steven Institute of Technology. It was during this period in 1940, that I married Sylvia Samuels. We have two children, Robert G., who currently lives in Ojo Sarco, New Mexico, and Alisa K. Cowden, of Trumansburg, New York, and six grandchildren.
I continued with graduate studies at New York University, where I worked for a time in experimental cosmic ray physics under the direction of S.A. Korff, and wrote a theoretical Ph.D thesis on “The Liquid Drop Model for Nuclear Fission” under R.D. Present. Even before completing my thesis in 1944, I was recruited as a staff member under Richard Feynman in the Theoretical Division at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, to work on the Manhattan Project. During my participation in the Manhattan Project and subsequent research at Los Alamos, encompassing a period of fifteen years, I worked in the company of perhaps the greatest collection of scientific talent the world has ever known. About a year after I arrived I became a Group Leader in the Theoretical Division and, later, the director of Operation Greenhouse, which consisted of a number of Atomic Energy Commission experiments on Eniwetok atoll. In addition to my work on the results of bomb tests conducted at Eniwetok, Bikini and the testing grounds in Nevada, I directed my efforts during this period to the basic understanding of the effects of nuclear blasts, including a study of the air blast wave coauthored with John von Neumann. In 1958, I was a delegate to the Atoms for Peace conference in Geneva.
In 1951, I took a sabbatical-in-residence from my duties at Los Alamos to think about the physics I would pursue in the coming years. It was during this time that I decided to attempt the observation of the neutrino. The idea of searching for the elusive neutrino had, in fact, occurred to me as early as 1947, but the opportunity did not present itself. I was now determined to do it, and formed an extremely fruitful collaboration with Clyde Cowan, another Los Alamos staff member. We initially considered the use of a nuclear bomb test as the source of neutrinos, but soon decided that the reactor at Hanford, Washington, would be better. After the first hints of a result at Hanford in 1953, we were informed by John Wheeler about the new Savannah River reactor facility being built in South Carolina. The conditions at Savannah River were ideal for this experiment and, in 1955, Cowan and I transferred the operation there. In 1956 we observed the electron antineutrino. Shortly after that, Cowan left Los Alamos and our collaboration came to a natural end. I turned my attention for a while to gamma ray astronomy and soon began the first in a continuous series of experiments at the Savannah River site to study the properties of the neutrino.
I left Los Alamos in 1959 to become Professor and Head of the Department of Physics of the (then) Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio. During my seven years at Case, I built a group working in reactor neutrino physics, double beta decay, electron lifetime studies, searches for nucleon decay, and a very ambitious experiment in a gold mine in South Africa that made the first observation of the neutrinos produced in the atmosphere by cosmic rays. The primary goals of the experimental program were elucidation of the properties of the neutrino and probing of the limits of fundamental symmetry principles and conservation laws, such as the conservation of charge, baryon number and lepton number. Most of these experiments required the reduction of the cosmic ray muon flux in order to be successful, and the group necessarily became expert in the operation of deep underground laboratories. The projects also drew us into developing innovative detector techniques, including the use of large liquid scintillator and water Cherenkov detectors.
This line of research continued when I went, and brought my research group with me, to the new University of California, Irvine campus in 1966 to become the founding Dean of the School of Physical Sciences. I served as Dean until 1974, when I stepped down to return to full time teaching and research. I was appointed Distinguished Professor of Physics at UCI in 1987 and became Professor Emeritus in 1988. I have also served as Professor of Radiological Sciences in the College of Medicine at UCI. The “Neutrino Group” at Irvine has been actively involved in a wide range of neutrino and elementary particle physics experiments, including its role in the IMB (Irvine-Michigan-Brookhaven) proton decay experiment. This group has continued the program of reactor neutrino experiments, has been the first to observe double beta decay in the laboratory, and was awarded the 1989 Bruno Rossi prize in High Energy Astrophysics by the American Astronomical Society for its joint observation (with the Kamiokande Experiment in Japan) of neutrinos from supernova 1987A. The detection of the supernova neutrinos was a particularly gratifying outcome of the IMB experiment. Our group had always been aware of the possibility of seeing neutrinos from stellar collapse in our large detectors, and several of the previous detectors had been adorned with signs identifying each of them as a “Supernova Early Warning System.”
Over the years, a number of other intriguing experimental ideas and areas of investigation have been the objects of my attention, and I have devoted some time and effort to exploring the inherent possibilities. These include: the search for relic neutrinos; the “neutrino Mössbauer effect”, in which a photon is replaced by a neutrino; the measurement of the gravitational constant, G, the most poorly measured non-nuclear fundamental constant by several orders of magnitude; a spherical lens space telescope; attempting to set more stringent limits on violation of the Pauli Exclusion Principle; exploration of the brain using ultra-sound; and a variety of new detector ideas. These scientific concepts, goals and challenges continue to excite and stimulate my interest.
|Honors and Awards|
|Sigma Xi, 1944|
|Centennial Lecturer, University of Maryland, 1956|
|Fellow of the American Physical Society, 1957|
|Guggenheim Fellow, 1958-1959|
|Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, 1959-1963|
|Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1966|
|Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1966|
|Phi Beta Kappa, 1969|
|Stevens Honor Award, 1971|
|Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, University of California, Irvine, 1979|
|Fellow, American Association Advancement of Science, 1979|
|National Academy of Sciences, 1980|
|J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize, 1981|
|Honorary Doctor of Engineering, Stevens Institute of Technology, 1984|
|Medal for Outstanding Research, University of California, Irvine, 1985|
|National Medal of Science, 1985|
|L.I. Schiff Memorial Lecturer, Stanford University, 1988|
|Albert Einstein Memorial Lecturer, Israel Academy of the Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem, 1988|
|Bruno Rossi Prize, American Astronomical Society, 1989|
|Michelson-Morley Award, 1990|
|Goudsmidt Memorial Lecturer, 1990|
|New York University Plaque, 1990|
|Distinguished Alumnus Award, New York University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, 1990|
|W.K.H. Panofsky Prize, 1992|
|The Franklin Medal, awarded by the Benjamin Franklin Institute Committee on Science and the Arts, 1992|
|Foreign Member, Russian Academy of Sciences, 1994|
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.
Frederick Reines died on August 26, 1998.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.