APS News

APS Mourns Loss of President-Elect John Bahcall

John Bahcall
John Bahcall

Physics Quest winners with John Bahcall
Photo Credit: James Riordon

John Bahcall with winners of the APS PhysicsQuest competition at the Institute.

John N. Bahcall, president-elect of APS, passed away on August 17, 2005 at age 70. He was the Richard Black Professor of Astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

In a message to all APS members, APS President Marvin Cohen said “John was one of the great masters of theoretical astrophysics, and we were very fortunate that he decided to devote time to serve in the presidential line of the APS. Last spring, due to declining health, he announced his intention to step down as president-elect, but his death only a few months later comes as a great shock. His loss will be keenly felt, both as a physicist of outstanding achievements and ability, and as a leader in the scientific community. On behalf of all the members of the APS, I want to express my deep sympathy to his wife, Neta, and his family.”

Because he had announced his intention to step down, a special election was held this summer to insure the proper succession in the APS presidential line. The new president-elect is now John Hopfield (succeeding Bahcall).

Bahcall’s most widely recognized achievement in astrophysics was his calculation of the predicted neutrino flux from the sun. This was the theoretical impetus for the experiment conducted by Raymond Davis to detect solar neutrinos, which led ultimately to the discovery that neutrinos have mass and that the flavor of the neutrinos oscillates as they propagate from the sun to Earth. This achievement was recognized when Davis and Masatoshi Koshiba, leader of the Kamiokande neutrino experiment, each received part of the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics.

Bahcall was also a leader in planning and advocating for the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1970s. More recently, he led efforts to extend the life of the Hubble Telescope through the current decade.

He was the recipient of many honors and awards, including the APS Bethe Prize in 1998, and the National Medal of Science in the same year. He shared the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics with Davis and Koshiba in 2003.

Bahcall was born in Shreveport, LA in 1934, and received his AB from UC Berkeley in 1956, his MS from the University of Chicago in 1957, and his PhD from Harvard in 1961. He is survived by his wife, Neta Bahcall, who is a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University, and three children.

The family has asked that contributions in his memory be made to the John N. Bahcall Fund for Science Education in Israel and the United States, c/o the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff