Jan. 8, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 7

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    David Schramm

    Vice President for Research, DSP in Physical Sciences David N. Schramm, one of the world's leading astrophysicists, was killed Dec. 19 when the twin-engine plane he was piloting crashed outside of Denver. He was en route from his home in Chicago to his second home in Aspen, Colo. The cause of the crash is being investigated. Schramm, Vice President for Research and Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor in Physical Sciences, was 52.

    Schramm was a world leader in theoretical astrophysics and perhaps the leading authority on the Big Bang model of the formation of the universe. He did important work across the discipline of astrophysics, and he is more responsible than any other individual for the recent merging of the fields of particle physics, nuclear physics and astrophysics in the study of the early universe.

    Physicist Stephen Hawking said, "All I can say is that David was larger than life in many ways. His death is a great loss to physics."

    Schramm's most important work was in cosmology -- the study of the very early universe -- and the connection between particle physics, nuclear physics and cosmology.

    His most fundamental contribution may have been his calculation of the number of families of elementary particles in the universe. At a time when two families of particles were known, and when most physicists assumed that many more families of particles would be found, Schramm and his colleagues boldly predicted that physicists would probably find only one more family. In 1989, his prediction was confirmed by experiments at particle accelerators in Stanford and Geneva, marking the first time that astronomy had been used to make a fundamental discovery in physics, rather than the very common reverse.

    Schramm also did much of the essential work to show how the light elements -- including hydrogen, deuterium, helium and lithium -- were produced in the Big Bang. That work was considered crucial to the establishment of the current "hot Big Bang theory" of the universe's birth.

    His calculation of the amount of "ordinary matter" in the universe helped show that it accounted for only a fraction of the universe's mass, leading to the bold prediction that "exotic dark matter" comprises most of the universe.

    President Sonnenschein said, "David was an extraordinary scientist, and he was also a gifted teacher of students at all levels -- from those taking their first college course in science to those engaged in research at the frontiers of science.

    "He was celebrated for his contributions throughout astrophysics -- from his study of the creation of the heavy elements in dying stars to the formation of the universe in the Big Bang. As our Vice President for Research, he was an enormously effective advocate for scientific research to the government and to the public.

    "If scientists were to be described with reference to the characteristics of the subatomic particles they study, David was the highest-energy physicist of all. Combine that with his brilliance, his generosity and his taste for excellence in everything he touched, and you have a scientist and teacher of the very first magnitude. He will be greatly missed by his many friends and colleagues at the University and throughout the world."

    Schramm joined the University faculty in 1974 and built the cosmology group at Chicago into one of the largest and most preeminent in the world. At Fermilab, he and Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate and former director of Fermilab, established a research group that brought together, for the first time, researchers who study the universe and those who study the fundamental particles of matter.

    A native of St. Louis, Mo., Schramm received his M.A. and S.B. in physics from MIT in 1967. He studied physics at Caltech with Gerald Wasserberg and Nobel laureate William Fowler, receiving his Ph.D. in 1971.

    Schramm was also a champion Greco-Roman wrestler, reaching the finals in the 1968 Olympic trials. At Caltech, he coached the wrestling team to three consecutive conference championships, and continued his involvement with wrestling at Austin and Chicago.

    Schramm taught briefly at the University of Texas at Austin before joining the Chicago faculty in 1974. He was Chairman of Astronomy & Astrophysics from 1977 to 1984 and was designated the Louis Block Professor of the Physical Sciences in 1982. He became Vice President for Research in 1995. In 1994, he received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.

    He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a foreign fellow of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

    Schramm served on the boards of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the Astrophysical Research Consortium and the Aspen Center for Physics, where he was chairman from 1992 to 1997. He was also chairman of the board on physics and astronomy of the National Research Council from 1989 to 1997.

    In 1993, he was awarded the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize from the American Physical Society "for his manifold contributions to nuclear astrophysics." He received the Helen B. Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society in 1978 and has received numerous other awards and named lectureships.

    He was the author or co-author of more than 350 scientific papers and 15 books, including The Shadows of Creation: Dark Matter and the Structure of the Universe, with E.M. Riordan.

    He is survived by his wife, Judith; two sons, D. Brett of San Francisco and D. Cary of Los Angeles; his mother, Betty, of St. Louis; and two brothers, Daniel of St. Louis and Wayne of Jefferson City, Mo. He also had four stepchildren, Tegan Ward of Denver; Eric Ward of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Laura Zielinski of Seattle; and Amanda Zielinski of San Francisco.

    A memorial service is being planned, and a memorial fund is being established at the University.