April 29, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 15

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    [robert sachs]
    Robert Sachs

    Robert Sachs, Professor Emeritus in Physics, dies at age 82

    Robert Sachs, Professor Emeritus in Physics, who helped create the Argonne National Laboratory and served as its Director from 1973 to 1979, died at the University Hospitals Wednesday, April 14, of complications following surgery. He was 82.

    As a scholar, Sachs is noted for making a wide range of theoretical contributions to nuclear and particle physics. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sachs became well-known in the physics community for his classification scheme for newly discovered subatomic particles, for his theories regarding the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe, and other related asymmetries in laws of fundamental particle interactions.

    “He was an extremely kind and gentle man who had many provocative and stimulating ideas. His absence is going to be a real loss,” said Bruce Winstein, the Samuel K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor in Physics at the University.

    Sachs established himself as an influential scholar, scientific policymaker and research administrator early in his career. He taught nuclear physics to Hyman Rickover before the future admiral went on to establish the U.S. nuclear submarine program. He also helped create Argonne in 1946 and 1947 as Director of the Theoretical Physics Group of the University’s Metallurgical Laboratory. The lab gave birth to the atomic age in 1942 when it created the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.

    As Associate Director of Argonne from 1964 to 1968, Sachs determined experimental priorities for the lab’s powerful new particle accelerator, the Zero Gradient Synchrotron.

    “In its day, the ZGS was the workhorse of high-energy physics,” said Roger Hildebrand, the Samuel K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics. “It was a difficult time because the country was trying to demonstrate that it was ahead of the Russians. A couple of big accelerators were built in a hurry. One of them was the Brookhaven Cosmotron and the other was the Argonne ZGS. There was a lot of competition to get access to the accelerator, so it took some skill to carry this off in a smooth fashion. Bob did that beautifully.”

    Sachs, who had been a member of the faculty at the University of Wisconsin from 1947 to 1964, returned to a full-time academic career at Chicago in 1968. But his research administration duties continued at Chicago, where he served two terms as Director of the University’s Enrico Fermi Institute, from 1968 to 1973 and from 1983 to 1986.

    An Emeritus Professor since 1986, Sachs continued an active research program until his last days. He particularly sought to understand the origin of the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe, a surprising phenomenon discovered in 1964.

    Sachs also is noted for his contributions to the debate relating to national and international energy policies and for his many years of service to high-energy physics panels.

    He was the author or co-editor of five books, including Nuclear Theory, published in 1953––the standard textbook in the field for many years. His honors include membership in the National Academy of Sciences, a Guggenheim fellowship and three honorary degrees.

    Sachs was born May 4, 1916, in Hagerstown, Md. He received his Ph.D. in 1939 from Johns Hopkins University, where he worked with Maria Goeppert Mayer, who later became a Chicago faculty member and cowinner of the Nobel Prize in physics.

    From 1939 to 1942, he served on the staffs of George Washington University, Purdue University and the University of California at Berkeley. In 1943, he joined the Ballistic Research Laboratory at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where he served as section chief of the Ballistic Research Laboratory.

    In addition to physics, Sachs had two other great loves: sailing and his family. He began sailing on the Chesapeake Bay at the age of 6 and skippered his own boat until he was 80.

    Sachs is survived by his wife, Carolyn Sachs; five children: Judith Crow, Portola Valley, Calif.; Joel Sachs, Arlington, Mass.; Rebecca Norris, Maynard, Mass.; Jeffrey Sachs, Sunnyvale, Calif.; and Jennifer Sachs, New York City; three stepchildren: Jacqueline Wolf, West Newton, Mass.; Kate Wolf, Lincoln, Mass.; and Thomas Wolf, Brookline, Mass.; and 14 grandchildren.

    In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the University of Chicago Robert G. Sachs Fellowship Fund. Send donations to the attention of Priscilla Yu, Office of Special Gifts, University of Chicago, 5733 S. University Ave., Chicago, IL 60637. For information, call (773) 702-8929.