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Memorial symposium celebrates longtime physics professor
Memorial symposium celebrates longtime physics professorOctober 16, 2003Edward Byrnesedbyrnes@syr.edu
Berlin-born scientist Peter Bergmann, an associate and collaborator of Albert Einstein and a professor in Syracuse University’s physics department for more than 50 years, was remembered in a memorial celebration of his life and accomplishments Oct. 11-12. The Peter Gabriel Bergmann Memorial Symposium, featuring a number of lectures presented by his former colleagues and students, coincided with the first anniversary of his death.
The speakers included: Joel Lebowitz, Rutgers University; Abhay Ashtekar, Penn State University; Charles Misner, University of Maryland; Andrzej Trautman, University of Warsaw; Ted Newman, University of Pittsburgh; Peter Saulson, SU; James Anderson, Stevens Institute of Technology; Juergen Ehlers, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics; and Roger Penrose, Oxford University. Abstracts of the presentations can be found at http://www.phy.syr.edu/~goldberg/symposium.html.
In Prague in 1936, Bergmann received his Ph.D. under the supervision of Philipp Frank. From 1936-41, he was a research associate and scientific collaborator of Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. Their principal interest was in unified field theories, and more specifically the Kaluza theory. During the latter part of this period, Bergmann prepared his now classic and authoritative book “Introduction to the Theory of Relativity,” from which generations of physicists learned the subject in depth.
Bergmann joined the SU faculty in September 1947. During his half-century here, he guided 32 students through their dissertations and contributed actively to the research efforts of many more. They, in addition to a comparable number of postdoctoral students who spent up to two years at SU as either a research associate or visiting professor, were stimulated by Bergmann’s clear, sharp physical insights and personal warmth. His reputation as an outstanding teacher comes from the thoughtful individual attention he gave to his students. Whether in a classroom, in his office, in informal discussion, or in a seminar, discussions took the form of a collaborative effort, with Bergmann as the center of inspiration.
Bergmann was appointed as an emeritus professor upon his retirement from SU in May 1982. At that time, New York University offered him desk space and other amenities. While he did not take on new students, he helped organize and participated in a relativity seminar, headed by Engelbert Schucking, until the spring of 1999 when Bergmann became seriously ill. He passed away on Oct. 19, 2002 in Seattle, Wash., at the home of one of his sons.
Just prior to his death, the American Physical Society awarded Bergmann the inaugural 2002 Einstein Prize for his work in gravitational physics. The citation reads: “For pioneering investigations in general relativity, including gravitational radiation, quantum gravity, black holes, space time singularities, and symmetries in Einstein’s equations, and for leadership and inspiration to generations of researchers in general relativity.”