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Robert Hofstadter

Robert HofstadterBorn: 5-Feb-1915
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 17-Nov-1990
Location of death: Stanford, CA
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Size, shape, and structure of neutrons and protons

Physicist Robert Hofstadter studied under Edward Condon, and won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1961 (shared with Rudolf Mössbauer) for his studies of the atomic nucleus. In 1948 he invented the scintillation counter radiation detection method, using sodium iodide activated with thallium to detect subatomic particles smaller than neutrons and protons. In 1950 he showed how gamma ray spectroscopy could be efficiently conducted with scintillation counters. He used Stanford's advanced electron accelerator to investigate the structure of the atomic nucleus, and designed and developed a 30-ton magnet for a magnetic spectrometer, and later a 200-ton focusing spectrometer to better delve into the tiniest pieces of atomic nuclei. His work redefined the scientific understanding of the atomic nuclei — when he began his career scientists generally agreed that electrons, neutrons, and protons had no discernible structure, but Hofstadter pioneered a new understanding that these subatomic particles have size, shape, and structure that can be ascertained.

During World War II he worked on an optical proximity fuse for detonation of anti-aircraft and artillery shells. His other studies included investigations of coronary angiography, the hydrogen bond, the infrared spectra of organic molecules, photoconductivity, and quantum mechanics, and he was instrumental in NASA's development of a gamma-ray telescope. He also advocated for civil and human rights and against American involvement in the Vietnam War. He loved jazz and frequented the Apollo Theater in Harlem whenever he was in New York. His son, writer Douglas Hofstadter, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

Father: Louis Hofstadter (cigar shop owner)
Mother: Henrietta Koenigsberg (cigar shop owner)
Brother: George
Sister: Shirley
Wife: Nancy Givan (m. 9-May-1942, one son, two daughters)
Son: Douglas Hofstadter (cognitive scientist and author, Pulitzer Prize winner)
Daughter: Laura (medical writer)
Daughter: Mary

    University: DeWitt Clinton High School, Bronx, NY
    University: BS Physics, City University of New York (1935)
    University: MA Physics, Princeton University (1938)
    University: PhD Physics, Princeton University (1938)
    Scholar: Procter Fellowship, Princeton University (1938-39)
    Scholar: Harrison Fellowship, University of Pennsylvania (1939-42)
    Teacher: Physics, Princeton University (1942-43)
    Teacher: Physics, Princeton University (1946-50)
    Teacher: Physics, Stanford University (1950-54)
    Professor: Physics, Stanford University (1954-90)
    Administrator: High-Energy Physics Lab, Stanford University (1967-74)
    Scholar: Brookhaven National Laboratory

    General Electric Laboratories, Summer 1938
    US Atomic Energy Commission
    National Institute of Standards and Technology 1942-43
    NASA Energetic gamma-ray technology experiment telescope
    Norden Corporation 1943-46
    Guggenheim Fellowship 1958-59
    California Scientist of the Year 1959
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1961 (with Rudolf Mössbauer)
    National Medal of Science 1986
    Guggenheim Fellowship 1958
    American Physical Society
    CERN
    National Academy of Sciences 1958
    Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society
    Phi Beta Kappa Society
    Heart Attack 17-Nov-1990 (fatal)
    Polish Ancestry

Author of books:
The Collected Scientific Papers of Robert Hofstadter (2000, posthumous; five volumes)


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