The Bruce Medalists


  Photo 1987, courtesy Cornell University
Edwin Ernest Salpeter
3 December 1924 1987 Bruce Medalist 26 November 2008

Ed Salpeter emigrated from Austria to Australia in his teens and received his B.Sc. and M.Sc. at the University of Sydney. He earned his Ph.D. in physics under Rudolph Peierls at the University of Birmingham in England and taught and conducted research at Cornell University from 1948 until his death. At first he worked in quantum electrodynamics and nuclear physics with Hans A. Bethe, with whom he developed an important equation for relativistic bound states of atoms and wrote a famous monograph on relativistic atomic physics. After spending the summer of 1951 in Willy Fowler’s group at Caltech, he began working in nuclear astrophysics, and that year he explained how the “triple-alpha” reaction could make carbon from helium in stars. He then investigated the effects of nuclear physics on stellar evolution and derived the initial mass function, i.e., the rate of formation of stars of different mass in the Galaxy, from stellar evolution and the observed abundances of stars of different luminosities. He also investigated the formation of dust grains and molecules in the interstellar medium. Later he worked on dark matter and the formation of galaxies and clusters. Independently of Y.B. Zel’dovich, he predicted the detection of black holes by observing x-rays emitted by gas falling into them. In his later years, including after his formal retirement in 1997, he worked on polar caps on neutron stars, clusters of galaxies, and problems in neurobiology, biophysics and epidemiology, occasionally collaborating with his wife, daughter, or grandson. He also contributed to national defense studies and was a mentor to more than fifty graduate students.

Presentation of Bruce medal
Mercury 16, 144 (1987).

Other awards
American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1974.
American Physical Society, Hans A. Bethe Prize, 1999
Astronomische Gesellschaft, Karl Schwarzschild Medal, 1985.
Carnegie Institution of Washington, Award for Research in Astrophysics, 1959.
University of Miami, J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1973, presented by Fred Hoyle, QJRAS 14, 275-76 (1973).
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Crafoord prize, 1997. [Press release]

Biographical materials
Salpeter, E.E.,“A Generalist Looks Back,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 40, 1-25 (2002).
Terzian, Yervant, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009.

Harris, Lissa & Lauren Gold, Cornell University, 26 November 2014.
Gottfried, Kurt, Saul Teukolsky, & Ira Wassermanm, Physics Today 62, 3, 65 (2009).
Hoffman, G. Lyle, PASP 121, 101-03 (2009).
Krauss, Lawrence, The Guardian, 4 February 2009.
Teukolsky, Saul A. & Ira Wasserman, Nature 457, 275 (2009).
Trimble, Virginia & Yervant Terzian, BAAS 41, 1208-10 (2009).

AIP Center for History of Physics
Clemson University, Photo Archive in Nuclear Astrophysics [includes several candid shots with others].

Named after him
Minor Planet #11757 Salpeter
Bethe-Salpeter Equation (with Hans A. Bethe)
Cornell University, Salpeter Lectureship

More references

The Bruce Medalists

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