The Bruce Medalists


  Photo courtesy Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Rudolph Leo Bernhard Minkowski
28 May 1895 1961 Bruce Medalist 4 January 1976

Born in Strassburg, Germany (now Strasbourg, France), Rudolph Minkowski earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Breslau (now Wroclaw) after serving in the German army during World War I. He taught and worked—first in atomic physics, later in observational astronomy—at Hamburg from 1922 to 1935, after which he joined the Mt. Wilson Observatory staff. After retirement in 1960, he continued research at the University of California at Berkeley. Minkowski studied spectra, distributions, and motions of planetary nebulae and more than doubled the number known. He investigated the spectra of novae and supernovae and their remnants, especially the Crab nebula, where he found the central star. He divided supernovae into Types I and II. He designed instruments, including Schmidt cameras for use in spectrographs. He headed the National Geographic Society–Palomar Observatory Sky Survey which photographed the entire northern sky in the 1950s. With Walter Baade he optically identified many of the early radio sources, among them active galaxies, including Cygnus A and Perseus A, and supernova remnants, including Cassiopeia A and Puppis A. Later he investigated the velocity dispersions of clusters of galaxies. Just before his mandatory retirement in 1960, Minkowski found what remained for years the largest known redshift (0.46) in a galaxy.

Presentation of Bruce medal
Nicholson, Seth B., PASP 73, 85 (1961).

Biographical materials
Durham, Ian T., Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 786-87.
Osterbrock, Donald E., “Rudolph Minkowski: Observational Astrophysicist,” Physics Today 38, 4, 50-57 (1985).
Osterbrock, Donald E., Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science 54, 271-98 (1983).
Plicht, Chris, Rudolph Minkowski

Kuhi, Leonard V., Physics Today 29, 3, 78-80 (1976).
Phillips, John G., Mercury 5, 1, 2 (1976).
New York Times, 12 January 1976, p. 30.
More obituaries

Caltech Archives (several)
Friedman, Jon R., Portrait Sketch
Eric Weisstein

Named after him
Lunar crater Minkowski [named for him and his uncle Hermann]
Minor Planet #11770 Rudominkowski [#12493 Minkowski was named for his uncle Hermann]

More references

The Bruce Medalists

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