Edwin Ernest Salpeter

Edwin Ernest Salpeter


Date of Birth
December 3, 1924
Date of Death
November 26, 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


Papers, etc.

Oral history interviews at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives with Salpeter and with Hans Bethe contain information about Salpeter. There is a 2008 interview with Mark Turin at the University of Cambridge.

Other References: Historical

Corbelli, Edvige, Francesco Palle, & Hans Zinnecker, eds., The Initial Mass Function 50 years Later (Springer, Dordrecht, 2005).

Salpeter, E.E., “Cornell Theoretical Astrophysics 25 (and 50) Years Ago,” in New York State Astronomy, A.G. Davis Philip, ed., (L. Davis Press, Schenectady, NY, 1992).

Salpeter, E.E., “Reminiscences of George Gamow and Nuclear Astrophysics,” for a Gamow celebration in Odessa and St. Petersburg, 1994.

Salpeter, E.E., “Introduction to IMF@50,” in E. Corbelli, F. Palle, & H. Zinnecker, eds., The Initial Mass Function 50 years Later (Springer, Dordrecht, 2005), p. 3-10.

Salpeter, E.E., “My Sixty Years with Hans Bethe,” in G.E. Brown & C.-H. Chen, eds., Hans Bethe and his Physics (World Scientific, Singapore, 2006), pp. 115ff.

Salpeter, Edwin E., “Bethe-Salpeter Equation (Origins),” Scholarpedia, 3(11):7483 (2008)

Salpeter, Edwin E., An interview of Edwin Salpeter [video file], 2009.

Shapiro, Stuart L. & Saul A. Teukolsky, Highlights of Modern Astrophysics: Concepts and Controversies (Wiley, NY, 1986).

Salpeter, E.E., “Neutron Stars Before 1967 and My Debt to Chandra,” Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy 17, 77-79 (1996).

Salpeter, Edwin E., “Nuclear Astrophysics Before 1957,” Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia 25, 1-6 (2008).

Search ADS for works about Salpeter

Other References: Scientific

Salpeter, E.E., On the Electrodynamic Self-energy of the Electron,” Proc. Roy. Soc. A 195, 163-73 (1948).

Salpeter, E.E. & R.E.B. Makinson, “On the Dielectric Properties of a Gas Discharge,” Proc. Phys. Soc. B, 62, 180-88 (1949).

Salpeter, E.E., Nuclear Induction Signals for Long Relaxation Times,” Proc. Phys. Soc. A, 63, 337-49 (1950).

Salpeter, E.E., “The Effective Range of Nuclear Forces. Effect of the Potential Shape,” Phys. Rev. 82, 60-66 (1951).

Salpeter, E.E., “Wave Functions in Momentum Space,” Phys. Rev. 84, 1226-31 (1951).

Salpeter, E.E. & H.A. Bethe, “A Relativistic Equation for Bound-State Problems,” Phys. Rev. 84, 1232-42 (1951) [the famous Bethe-Salpeter equation].

Bondi, H. & E.E. Salpeter, “Thermonuclear Reactions and Astrophysics,” Nature 169, 304-305 (1952).

Salpeter, E.E. & W.A. Newcomb, “Mass Corrections to Hyperfine Structure,” Phys. Rev. 87, 150 (1952).

Salpeter, E.E., “Mass Corrections to the Fine Structure of Hydrogen-Like Atoms,” Phys. Rev. 87, 328-43 (1952).

Salpeter, E.E., “Nuclear Reactions in the Stars. I. Proton-Proton Chain,” Phys. Rev. 88, 547-53 (1952).

Salpeter, E.E., “Nuclear Reactions in Stars without Hydrogen,” Ap.J. 115, 326-28 (1952). [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525C, 450 (1999) with a modern commentary by André Maeder; also excerpted, with commentary, in Lang, Kenneth R. & Owen Gingerich, eds., A Source Book in Astronomy & Astrophysics, 1900-1975 Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1979), 349-52.]

Salpeter, E.E., “The Reaction Rate of the Proton-Proton Chain,” Ap.J. 116, 649-50 (1952).

Salpeter, E.E., “The Lamb Shift for Hydrogen and Deuterium,” Phys. Rev. 89, 92-97 (1953).

Salpeter, E.E., “Electron Screening and Thermonuclear Reactions,” Australian Journal of Physics 7, 373 (1954).

Salpeter, E.E., “Energy Production in Stars,” Vistas in Astronomy 1, 283-90 (1955).

Salpeter, Edwin E., “The Luminosity Function and Stellar Evolution,” Ap.J. 121, 161-67 (1955).

Salpeter, E.E., “Nuclear Reactions in the Stars. II. Protons on Light Nuclei,” Phys. Rev. 97, 1237-44 (1955).

Bethe, H.A. & E.E. Salpeter, Quantum Mechanics of One- and Two-Electron Atoms (Academic Press, NY, 1957).

Salpeter, E.E., “Nuclear Reactions in Stars. Buildup from Helium,” Phys. Rev. 107, 516-25 (1957).

Salpeter, E.E., “Stellar Energy Sources,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 29 244-54 (1957).

Salpeter, E.E., “Statistics of Stellar Evolution,” in D.J.K. O'Connell, ed., Ricerche Astronomiche, Vol. 5, Specola Vaticana, Proceedings of a Conference at Vatican Observatory, Castel Gandolfo, May 20-28, 1957 (North-Holland, Amsterdam & Interscience, NY, 1958), p. 231-43.

Salpeter, Edwin E., “The Rate of Star Formation in the Galaxy,” Ap.J. 129, 608-27 (1959).

Reeves, H. & E.E. Salpeter, “Nuclear Reactions in Stars. IV. Buildup from Carbon,” Phys. Rev. 116, 1505-16 (1959).

Salpeter, E. E., “Scattering of Radio Waves by Electrons above the Ionosphere,” J. Geophys. Res. 65, 1851-52 (1960).

Salpeter, E.E., “Electron Density Fluctuations in a Plasma,” Phys. Rev. 120, 1528-35 (1960).

Salpeter, E.E., “Matter at High Densities,” Ann. Phys. 11, 393-413 (1960).

Salpeter, E.E., “Plasma Density Fluctuations in a Magnetic Field,” Phys. Rev. 122, 1663-74 (1961).

Cox, John P. & E.E. Salpeter, “Equilibrium Models for Stars which Derive Energy from Helium-Burning II. Helium Stars with Hydrogen-Rich Envelopes,” Ap.J. 133, 764-80 (1961).

Salpeter, E.E., “Energy and Pressure of a Zero-Temperature Plasma,” Ap.J. 134, 669-82 (1961).

Hamada, T. & E.E. Salpeter, “Models for Zero-Temperature Stars,” Ap.J. 134, 683-98 (1961).

Gould, Robert J. & Edwin E. Salpeter, “The Interstellar Abundance of the Hydrogen Molecule. I. Basic Processes,” Ap.J. 138, 393-407 (1963).

Gould, R.J., T. Gold, & E.E. Salpeter, “The Interstellar Abundance of the Hydrogen Molecule. II. Galactic Abundance and Distribution,” Ap.J. 138, 408-25 (1963).

Deinzer, W. & E.E. Salpeter, “Equilibrium Models for Helium-Burning Stars. IV. Massive Stars and Nuclear Abundances,” Ap.J. 140, 499-509 (1964).

Chiu, Hong-Yee & E.E. Salpeter, “Surface X-Ray Emission from Neutron Stars,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 12, 413-15 (1964).

Cox, John P. & E.E. Salpeter, “Equilibrium Models for Helium-Burning Stars. III. Semi-Degenerate Stars of Small Mass,” Ap.J. 140, 485-98 (1964).

Salpeter, E.E., “Accretion of Interstellar Matter by Massive Objects,” Ap.J. 140, 796-800 (1964).

Deinzer, W. & E.E. Salpeter, “Models for Carbon-Burning Stars.,” Ap.J. 142, 813-23 (1965).

Bahcall, John N. & E.E. Salpeter, “On the Interaction of Radiation from Distant Sources with the Intervening Medium,” Ap.J. 142, 1677-80 (1965).

Bahcall, J.N. & E.E. Salpeter, “Absorption Lines in the Spectra of Distant Sources,” Ap.J. 144, 847-52 (1966).

Salpeter, E.E., “Interplanetary Scintillations. I. Theory,” Ap.J. 147, 433-48 (1967).

Pacini F. & E.E. Salpeter, “Some Models for Pulsed Radio Sources,” Nature 218, 733-34 (1968).

Beaudet, G. & Edwin E. Salpeter, “Models for Carbon-Rich Stars,” Ap.J. 155, 203-19 (1969).

Salpeter, E.E. & N.C. Wickramasinghe, “Alignment of Interstellar Grains by Cosmic Rays,” Nature 222, 442-44 (1969).

Tarter, C. Bruce & Edwin E. Salpeter, “The Interaction of X-ray Sources with Optically Thick Environments,” Ap.J. 156, 953-66 (1969).

Zapolsky, H.S. & E.E. Salpeter, “The Mass-Radius Relation for Cold Spheres of Low Mass,” Ap.J. 158, 809-14 (1969).

Bahcall, John N., Martin J. Rees, & E.E. Salpeter, “Extragalactic Pulsars,” Ap.J. 162, 737-42 (1970).

Hollenbach, David &. & E.E. Salpeter, “Surface Recombination of Hydrogen Molecules,” Ap.J. 163, 155-64 (1971).

Salpeter, E.E. & Robert V. Wagoner, “Structure of Relativistic Disks,” Ap.J. 164, 557-67 (1971).

Salpeter, E.E., “Central Stars of Planetary Nebulae,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 9, 127-46 (1971).

Watson, W.D. &. & E.E. Salpeter, “Molecule Formation on Interstellar Grains,” Ap.J. 174, 321-40 (1972).

Watson, W.D. &. & E.E. Salpeter, “On the Abundances of Interstellar Molecules,” Ap.J. 175, 659-71 (1972).

Salpeter, E.E., “On Convection and Gravitational Layering in Jupiter and in Stars of Low Mass,” Ap.J. 181, L83-L86 (1973).

Harwit, Martin & E.E. Salpeter, “Radiation from Comets Near Neutron Stars,” Ap.J. 186, L37-L39 (1973).

Sagan, C. & E.E. Salpeter, “Particles, Environments and Possible Ecologies in the Jovian Atmosphere,” Ap.J. Suppl. 32, 737 (1976).

Karp, Alan H., Gordon Lasher, K.L. Chan, & E.E. Salpeter, “The Opacity of Expanding Media: The Effect of Spectral Lines,” Ap.J. 214, 161-78 (1977).

Stevenson, D.J. & E.E. Salpeter, “The Phase Diagram and Transport Properties for Hydrogen-helium Fluid Planets,” Ap.J.Supp. 35, 221-37 (1977).

Dickey, John M., E.E. Salpeter, & Yervant Terzian, “Galactic Neutral Hydrogen Emission-absorption Observations from Arecibo,” Ap.J. Supp. 36, 77-114 (1978).

Dickey, John M., E.E. Salpeter, & Yervant Terzian, “Interpretation of Neutral Hydrogen Absorption,” Ap.J. 228, 465-74 (1979).

Helou, G., E.E. Salpeter, & N. Krumm, “Membership and velocity distribution in the core of the Virgo cluster,” Ap.J. 228, L1-L4 (1979).

Hoffman, G.L., E.E. Salpeter, & I. Wasserman, “Spherical Simulations of Holes and Honeycombs in Friedmann Universes,” Ap.J. 268, 527 (1983).

Giovanardi, C.; George Helou, E.E. Salpeter, & Nathan Krumm, “Effects of Environment on Neutral Hydrogen Distribution for Disk Galaxies in the Virgo Cluster Area,” Ap.J. 267, 35-51 (1983).

Dickey, J.M. & E.E. Salpeter, “1.4 GHz Continuum Sources in the Hercules Cluster,” Ap.J. 284, 461-70 (1984).

Salpeter, E.E., “Galactic Fountains, Planetary Nebulae, and Warm HI,” Mitteilungen der AG 63, 11-20 (1985) [Karl Schwarzschild lecture].

Schneider, S., E. E. Salpeter, and Y. Terzian,“High-Resolution Observations of the Intergalactic HI Cloud in the M96 Group,” Astronomical Journal 91, 13 (1986).

Salpeter, Edwin E., “Large-Scale Structure and Galaxy Disks as Lyman-Alpha Clouds,” Astronomical Journal 106, 1265 (1993).

Chengalur, Jayaram N., E.E. Salpeter, & Yervant Terzian, “Dynamics of Binary Galaxies II: Close Pairs,” Astronomical Journal 107, 1984 (1994).

Salpeter E.E. & S.R. Salpeter, “Mathematical Model for the Epidemiology of Tuberculosis, with Estimates of the Reproductive Number and Infection-delay Function,” Am. J. Epidemiol. 142, 398 (1998).

Salpeter, Edwin E., “Stellar nucleosynthesis,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 71, S220-S222 (1999).

Hoffman, G. Lyle, E.E. Salpeter, & Michael G. Pocceschi, “High-Velocity Cloud Edges and Mini-High-Velocity Clouds,” Ap.J. 576, 232-40 (2002).

Hoffman, L. & E.E. Salpeter, “Smidgens of Fuel for Star Formation,” in E. Corbelli & F. Palle, eds., The Initial Mass Function 50 years Later (Springer, Dordrecht, 2005), p.265.

Salpeter, Edwin E., “Fallacies in Astronomy and Medicine,” Rep. Prog. Phys. 68, 2747-2772 (2005).

Bahcall, John N. & Edwin E. Salpeter, “Stellar Energy Generation and Solar Neutrinos,” in G.E. Brown &C.-H. Lee, eds., Hans Bethe and his Physics (World Scientific, Singapore, 2006), pp. 147ff.