Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gerson Goldhaber
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Interview with Dr. Gerson Goldhaber
Gerson Goldhaber; March 1, 2006
ABSTRACT: Gerson Goldhaber (1924- ). Early training at Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1942-1947). Graduate work at The University of Wisconsin. Research at Columbia University (1950-1953); memories of Rabi. Research at The University of California at Berkeley and at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL). Took part in first experiment at Bevatron. Worked on K-mesons, the tau and theta mesons; measured the radius of interaction, and the difference between the behavior of like and unlike pion pairs; contributed to the design effort of SPEAR (Stanford Positron-Electron Asymmetric Ring) accelerator at SLAC; co-discovered, and named the Psi particle with George Trilling; Goldhaber found the naked-charm mesons; with colleagues, measured the lifetimes of a number of particles, including the tau lepton, the D mesons, and the B meson; at SLC (Stanford Linear Collider) did measurements of the mass and width of the Z particle, measuring how much of the Z decay went into neutral leptons. With colleague Robert Cahn, he wrote and published the textbook ďThe Experimental Foundations of Particle Physics.Ē Part of The Supernova Cosmology Project (SCP) since 1989. 2004, ĎGersonfestí held in his honor.
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Pavlish:This is a continuation of our discussion. Today is March 1, 2006. Yesterday I asked you about CERN and today I have another question. Did you notice a difference in working style among European physicists when you visited CERN?
Goldhaber:Not really. They work just as hard. Maybe US physicists put in a few more hours and the European physicists manage to take time off and enjoy lunch but otherwise they work just as hard.
Pavlish:Is there a specific style of doing physics unique to Berkeley?
Goldhaber:Itís nothing unique, but Berkeley started building, by Lawrence inventing the cyclotron, started building bigger and bigger cyclotrons. So Berkeley started the building of large equipment for high energy physics.
Pavlish:How have the various collaborations youíve worked in been similar or different?
Goldhaber:These are difficult questions. Well, most of my collaborations have been local. The one exception was the collaboration with SLAC, where we collaborated for twenty years, starting with SPEAR, moving on to PEP, moving on to the SLC (SLAC Linear Collider).
Pavlish:What was the work that you did at PEP?
Goldhaber:At PEP we had a better detector, the Mark II. We had a higher energy. And the main results there were the measurement of lifetimes of particles: the tau, the D particles, and in particular the b mesons which were interesting because we found a very long lifetime. And my colleague George Trilling was very active in that aspect of the work. Letís see, repeat the question.
Pavlish:My question is, what was the work that you did at PEP?
Goldhaber:With a better detector, with a higher energy, we didnít achieve anything like what we achieved at SPEAR, which was lower energy and a more primitive detector. It was just the luck of being in the right energy region and finding so much interesting physics.
Pavlish:How about at the SLC?
Goldhaber:The SLC, again, it was interesting. We found properties of the Z particle, in particular that it looked like three types of neutral neutrinos were formed. But again, it was nothing like SPEAR.
Pavlish:My next question is, did your theoretical interpretation of the GGLP effect come right after the experimental findings or significantly later? And why were there not theorists interpreting your results separately? You had to work together with Pais, right? And together you interpreted the theoretical findings. How come there wasnít somebody grabbing at your data, somebody else trying to interpret it?
Goldhaber:The result came out about a year after our discovery. The theoretical interpretation came out a year after our discovery. I canít speak for the theorists, why they didnít pay more attention to our data. But we knew that it was worth exploring. We happened to have good relations with Bram Pais, so we decided to do it together.
Pavlish:I have two favorite questions that Iíd like to ask you, and then Iíll get back to the other ones. Here I have a program from Gersonfest. Unfortunately those talks arenít available online. I was wondering if you would tell me about Gersonfest in detail. What was the event like? Were there talks that were especially good?
Goldhaber:There are pictures online.
Pavlish:Yes, I saw the pictures.
Goldhaber:Letís see. The talks were not recorded. It was a one day symposium. The morning talks were mainly reminiscences of the work that I was involved with. Chinowsky and Ekspong and Wonyong Lee and then Shen, these are all people who worked with me. And then George Trilling, after a break. Then my great nephew David Goldhaber-Gordon gave a talk essentially on his work. This is not directly related to me, only heís related to me. And then, Maurice my brother gave a talk, ďThe Role of Rules.Ē Again, the talk was not related to me. It was a general talk. Then, in the afternoon Roy Schwitters, and Jackson, and Gerry Abrams, all gave talks that were related to my work. It was this collaboration with SLAC that was involved. They were all quasi-historical. Then Martin Perl gave a talk about something that heís working on now. So it was not historical. Then, in the second session in the afternoon, Alfred Scharff Goldhaber (heís the father of Goldhaber-Gordin) again gave a talk about a current topic, about the supernova 1987A, not related to me. Then, Richard Ellis gave a talk about Gravitational Lensing which was related to the future work that I may be involved with. Lifan Wang gave a talk which again dealt with the type of work that Iím working on. And then Saul Perlmutter gave a talk, ďSupernovae, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating UniverseĒ which again is related to what Iím working on. So I would say that most of the talks were either in reference to work Iíve done previously, or work Iím currently doing, with a few general talks. And then we had a dinner and reception. Then there were some talks after dinner. My son talked and my two daughters talked and Judy talked about my artwork and showed some of the pictures. These were short, open mic talks. In particular, Rob Knop mentioned the fact that I was the first to discover evidence for dark energy. So those were all complimentary talks and family talks.
Pavlish:Do you remember any stories from the talks that struck you as particularly revealing.
Goldhaber:Oh, and I forgot. My grandson, Sam Goldhaber my sonís son, also talked. Well, it was enjoyable for me. And it was organized by my present group, Tony Spadafora and Lifan Wang, were involved in organization, and of course also very much so, Jean Miller our executive assistant was involved in organizing it. So it was a one day affair.
Pavlish:Thatís very special. Here I have a list of some of the honors that youíve received. I would like to ask you, what it was like to receive these honors. Are there ones that are particularly close to your heart?
Goldhaber:I enjoyed being a Loeb Lecturer at Harvard in 1976. I spent about two weeks there and gave some lectures and had many discussions with the Harvard people, particularly with my colleague Shelly Glashow. Then I was California Scientist of the Year in 1977. That was essentially just an evening when they had a dinner party. It was interesting. They gave something to the scientist of the year, and something to the industrialist of the year. And to the scientist, they gave $5,000 and to the industrialist, they gave a plaque. So each got what he needed. So that was amusing. When I got my Doctorate of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, this by the way was organized by my colleague Gosta Ekspong because he felt that I had helped him start the physics at the University of Stockholm, the particle physics there. That was a very formal occasion. The Swedes like formal occasions. I had to dress up in a tux. Judy had to rent an evening gown. And we danced with the king. The king and queen came to that occasion. When I was presented with this diploma, they shot off some cannons. There were ten or fifteen people who got this honorary doctorate degree. And for each one, they shot off a cannon. And then they gave me the shell casing of that cannon shot. They claim itís the one that went with my degree. So it was a very formal occasion, similar to the occasions they make for the Nobel Prize. When Don Glaser got the Nobel Prize, I was invited to give some talks in Stockholm. There, they have a week of festivity. This was just a couple of days of festivity. And they also gave me a crown of laurel leaves, and they gave me a gold ring. They have a special ring which the scientists wear. Only, it turns out it was too big so I canít really wear it.
Pavlish:A decorative piece.
Goldhaber:Yes. When I got the Panofsky Prize that was at the meeting of the Physical Society in 1991. The Doctor of Philosophy was in 1986. And that was at a meeting of the Physical Society. I forget where it was, maybe in Washington. I gave a talk on that occasion, when they presented the prize, as did Francois Pierre my co-recipient. They were all fun occasions. When I was elected to the Swedish Academy of Sciences, as a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy, they also had a party and it was a similar festive occasion. And when I was elected to the US National Academy, I went to a meeting there and this was festive, but at a much lower level than Swedish festivities. And when I was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, I didnít manage to go the first year I was elected. It was an Academy meeting, nothing special.
Pavlish:Have you ever really been discouraged with a physics experiment?
Goldhaber:No. When it doesnít work, I work harder, and see if I can get it to work.
Pavlish:If you didnít do physics for a living, what would your next choice be?
Goldhaber:Illustrator. I would do drawings for illustrations. This is the big thing that I only slowly realized. That I can do what I enjoy doing, physics, and even get paid for it.
Pavlish:Speaking about your art, getting to that, I have a few questions about the illustrations in your book, ďSonnets from Aesop.Ē I would like to know what medium you started with? Did you start with watercolors? You started with metalwork?
Goldhaber:Actually, with woodwork. I started making wood sculptures. Then I did some metalwork, then I did some clay figure work. And somewhere in there I started also painting. Itís basically a weekend, relaxation type activity for me. I started with making sketches when somebody was leaving. For a special occasion I made them a sketch. Let me see if I have some of that here. I made several sketches for our book, but the publisher didnít want to hear of them. But we made a preliminary form of the book, and there we put in all the sketches. Then, when somebody was leaving the group, letís see. This is a person, Laura. She was one of our scanners and when she left I made her such a drawing about the kind of work she had done. Then, I made invitations to parties. This was the party when we launched our book, Bob Cahn and I. We had a party at our house. This is the invitation for it. It got folded up. Then, I had observed a satellite of the charmed meson, and I had the question, what is it? I told my theoretical friends that I would give a nickel to anyone who finds the solution. Well, three of them got together and found the solution: Bob Cahn, Mike Chanowitz, and they were consulted by David Jackson. So what I did is I made three such awards, this one is for Jackson. Two of them got two pennies and he got one penny. So I split up the nickel between them. Then I made a drawing for my brother. Thereís a book published for him. I put a drawing in it. He was working on the lifetime of the proton. So I made a drawing which shows all the people he worked with and many of his accomplishments. So thatís here. Hereís somebody else who left who was also a scanner. He was also a musician. So I made this drawing for him. This looks like another party at our house. This is another version of the cover for the book which was not used. Hereís a third version. I made vases of the phi, the psi, and the upsilon. The phi decays into K mesons, the psi contains virtual D mesons, and the upsilon contains virtual B mesons. Theyíre actually all bound in those states. This one youíve seen already. Then, this was a party for Ekspong. This is an invitation to my daughterís Bat Mitzvah. I made that. This is to show that you can use the GGLP effect as a telescope. This is another version of a book cover. This is another invitation for Ekspong. There are repeats here. We had a Chinese physicist working with us, so I made a special Chinese looking souvenir. There were three Chinese physicists so I had three versions of this. Letís see, whatís this? More of the same. Oh, see I also made book covers in terms of scientific results. I donít need to go into the details. These are just drawings I made. Hereís another invitation. Thatís when our secretary left. There was a meeting in town, so hereís an invitation to that. Hereís one I didnít make. We had parties at our house when we discovered supernovae.
Pavlish:That actually relates to another one of my questions. What is the social life of a physicist like?
Goldhaber:Itís good. We used to have a lot of parties. We made parties for the supernovas. Weíve sort of slowed down a bit. Now itís only for special occasions like if a scientist is visiting, that we make a party. This was a drawing which appeared in some folio. Itís a drawing I made.
Pavlish:Thatís very intricate.
Goldhaber:They took it as the title page of some folio. This youíve seen before. I am not very good at portraits but I keep trying. This is a portrait of Judy and myself and our daughter when she was two or three years old. This is a sketch I made somewhere of some ships. This is a picture with Oppenheimer at this Miami conference. Anyhow, so one of the things I do is make cards for special occasions.
Pavlish:How long did it take you to do the illustrations in your book?
Pavlish:Did you do rough drafts?
Goldhaber:Yes. I always started with a pencil drawing. We first discussed what it is going to be, since she knew the poem. Then I made the pencil drawing and she commented on it, and maybe improved it. Then I made an India ink tracing of it. Then only did I put watercolors on.
Pavlish:Did you grow up with Aesopís fairy tales?
Goldhaber:No. I grew up with Grimmís fairy tales.
Pavlish:That relates to another question of mine. Do you have a favorite book of fiction or nonfiction?
Pavlish:How about a particularly well-written physics book?
Goldhaber:I think our book is pretty good. Iíve used very many books in teaching. They are all very good, but none of them are exactly what you want to teach so itís always picking and choosing from the books. But thatís what made me want to write this book with Bob Cahn. I had the idea that the students donít really know, they get the impression that you can just sit down and develop a theory and thatís all they need to do. They donít really know that the experiment is the center part of physics. Itís been done once, by Einstein, which he could make a fundamental theory without too much experimental input, but I think that itís never been repeated as far as I know. You need experiment to show the way to the theory. That is why I felt that we needed a book which shows what the experimental foundations were for particle physics. I decided to ask Bob Cahn to work with me on this and he agreed. Heís a theorist, but I think that I somewhat converted him to an experimentalist through this effort.
Pavlish:This is more of a fun question. What kind of music do you like? Have there been periods of your life when you have been more interested in music and art than in other periods? When you were young, what was your connection, if any, to art and music?
Goldhaber:I enjoy classical music. I used to like violin concertos. Those intricate ones by Pagannini. We do go to concerts. But itís not an overwhelming passion for me. I do like going to museums and seeing art.
Pavlish:Do you enjoy reading your wifeís creative writing?
Goldhaber:Yes. That gave me the idea that I could perhaps illustrate it. Weíre working on a new book now. I donít know if she told you.
Pavlish:She mentioned that, yes. About Bible stories?
Goldhaber:Yes, stories based on Genesis. So again, she writes it in sonnets and I illustrate it with a lot of input from her on how the pictures should look and so on.
Pavlish:Now, back to your scientific work. What do you consider to be your most important work?
Goldhaber:I think that the discovery of charmed mesons and the discovery of Dark Energy. Those two.
Pavlish:Iím going to turn over the tape.
Pavlish:My next question. Going back to the time to when you did not at first get clearance to work at the Rad Lab, was not getting clearance a common problem for physicists? Did you feel the presence of the government very strongly in your work?
Goldhaber:Weíve gotten rid of that at Berkeley. Then, they wanted clearance because there was some secret work still going on here. Thatís why they wanted clearance. Not that I was doing any of that. Before Livermore was created, there was some preparatory work going on here. So, thatís why clearance was needed, or at least they thought so. I think, yes, I just read some autobiographical material by Jack Steinberger. He wrote a book about the physics heís been doing. Thatís one that maybe you should try to read. Itís Jack Steinberger, ďLearning About Particle Physics,Ē something like that. He had trouble getting clearance. So some people did have trouble getting clearance. Now, the main role of the government is that they decided, after the war, that physicists can be useful. Physicists had demonstrated during the war that they can be useful to the government. At least, this is my interpretation. So they decided to spend money on physics research in order to keep the physicists happy and usefully employed in case they should need them again. I think that that was some of the motivation. This is how all my research got done, through funding that the government gave. My feeling is that it was motivated by the fact that physicists proved during World War II that they can be a useful asset. In part, you can also say, it was to reward the physicists for the work they had done.
Pavlish:Now I have a few questions like, what motivates you? What gives you creativity? Where do you get your energy from? If you would like to speak on those.
Pavlish:Then, I was wondering if you have any thoughts on the relationship between religion and science?
Pavlish:Do you believe that for a theory to be true, it is often beautiful, or is beauty not one of the requirements for truth in physics? I know that youíre not a theorist, but still you come in contact with theory.
Goldhaber:Does truth have to be beautiful? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If a theory explains something nicely, then I consider it to be beautiful. I think itís partly a matter of definition. So, Iíll leave it at that.
Pavlish:If you were on public television with a show, what would you cover in that show about your scientific work?
Goldhaber:I would cover the work that Iím doing now which is work onÖ I would give a talk on the discovery of Dark Energy and on what it is to the extent that we know. That would be a topic of current interest to me. Though I have also, and can also talk on charm and subjects like that.
Pavlish:I have some technical questions. Would you explain the Eightfold Way and how its theoretical predictions relate to your own researches?
Goldhaber:The Eightfold Way was basically a realization that a group of eight particles were related to each other. Eight baryons, eight mesons. And also there are groups of ten. Basically it is that particles come in certain groups. They are not isolated just as a single particle but there is a grouping of particles and the Eightfold Way was one realization of this grouping which was realized by Gell-Mann and Neíeman. Hereís a group of ten, this decuplet which Iíve illustrated over there [see page 116 of ďThe Experimental Foundations of Particle PhysicsĒ]. So basically it is a grouping of particles. There is a relation between them. So here, for instance, the Delta this is the 3-3 resonance. The Sigma, which is the strangeness 1 resonance. The Xi, strangeness -1, strangeness -2, and strangness -3, the Omega minus. You can define a quantum number which labels them. And yes, it had a lot to do with my work. I would say that my work has laid the foundation for some of this, in particular the Omega minus. It was the first explanation about all these particles we were finding. It shows some regularity between them. Otherwise it looked like they were all independent particles. What on earth were they doing? This was the first regularity which allowed one to see how theyíre related.
Pavlish:Could you elaborate on the similarity they sometimes draw between the Eightfold Way and the Periodic Table? Is it true that some particles were predicted through the Eightfold Way?
Goldhaber:Yes, like this Omega minus was predicted. Well, thatís a similarity that the Periodic Table allowed people to predict certain chemical elements which hadnít been seen yet and similarly here, the Eightfold Way allowed people to predict certain particles which hadnít been seen yet and predict what kind of spin they should have. All these particles shared that they had the same value of spin. Thatís one of the things they shared. So it was the first way to understand that there was some order. Later on, one discovered quarks and this was all understood now, in terms of quarks. Thatís what this diagram is.
Pavlish:Thatís on page 117 of your book.
Goldhaber:Yes. Here you see what you can make. The down quark with anti-strange and up quark with anti-strange. Here, down quark with u bar. Here, there is a mixture of d, d bar, u, u bar, and s, s bar. Anyway, in terms of quarks it seemed to make more sense.
Pavlish:In some of the news reports of the discovery of the anti-Omega minus baryon, it was said that the anti-Omega minus was believed to be the last lifetime long enough to make a track in a bubble chamber or other detector. Was that true or just believed to be at the time?
Goldhaber:Itís probably true, that the other particles beyond that were resonances. Well, no no no thatís nonsense. The charmed mesons are heavier and they leave a track. They live long enough to leave a track. There are lots of particles which leave tracks. That was true until the charm quark was discovered. Then that opened up a whole field. Then the bottom quark was discovered and that opened up a whole other field. That was the parochial view at the time.
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