Burton Richter, 1976 Nobel Prize, Physics
"Modern science is fast-moving, and no laboratory can exist for long with a program based on old facilities. Innovation and renewal are required to keep a laboratory on the frontiers of science." Autobiography on Nobel site
Burton Richter was born in New York City and pursued undergraduate and graduate studies at MIT. There, he earned a B.S. and, with the support of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (1952-1953), a Ph.D.. Early on in his research at MIT's magnet laboratory, Richter's interests in an accelerator and nuclear and particle physics became apparent in his experiments. That revelation led him in his studies to a program in which "not only did [he] have to design and build the apparatus required for [his] experiments, but …also had to help maintain and operate [an] accelerator."
In 1957, he began what became a six-year project to build the first colliding-beam device—the ancestor to all modern high-energy physics accelerators. Soon, his vision enlarged further, dreaming of a high-energy electron-positron colliding-beam machine and its uses. When invited to a position at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in 1963, Richter led a team that immediately began work on the design of a high-energy electron-positron machine (later called SPEAR). Following the construction of both the machine and a large magnetic detector, experiments began in 1973. The results were as exciting and revealing as Richter had hoped.
The construction of SLAC, the site of the Stanford Positron Electron Asymmetric Ring (SPEAR) gave birth to the era of particle colliders and matter/antimatter experiments. At SPEAR, Richter and his team discovered a previously unknown type of fundamental particle, the "charm quark", named "Psi". This discovery had significant implications for our understanding of the evolution of the universe and of the behavior of fundamental particles. "For... pioneering work in the discovery of a heavy elementary particle of a new kind," Richter received the joint 1976 Nobel Prize in physics.
SPEAR has also contributed to other discoveries. Martin Perl of SLAC was honored for the discovery of a new particle called the tau in 1976, and currently nearly 1,000 scientists use the device to conduct synchrotron radiation research annually.
Burton Richter served as Technical Director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center from 1982 to 1984, and then as Director from 1984 to 1999. Since he stepped down as SLAC director, he has become increasingly involved with energy, environment, and sustainability issues. Other interests are federal and state science policy and international cooperation in research.
Other awards include the E. O. Lawrence Medal, U. S. Department of Energy. He is an elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences; an American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow, 1989; Fellow and President (1994) of the American Physical Society; and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has been a figure in policy making, serving as a member of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, the DOE Laboratory Operations Board and the Board of Directors, Litel Instruments. He served as Chair of the Transmutation Subcommittee of the DOE's Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Board.
- Richter's SLAC Director Profile
- See Dr. Richter's Testimony on the Department of Energy Office of Science before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy (July, 2003).
- Short Autobiography of Dr. Richter on the Nobel Prize web site
- From the PSI to CHARM – The Experiments of 1975 and 1976 - Richter's Nobel Lecture
- Virtual Visitor's Center at SLAC