Burton Richter, a Nobel Prize–winning particle physicist who also exercised significant influence in scientific policy, died on 18 July, the laboratory announced yesterday. He was 87 years old. In 1974, Richter’s key scientific discovery laid a cornerstone for physicists’ standard model of fundamental particles and forces. In later years, he played an important role in U.S. science policy, including a restructuring of the Department of Energy that elevated its scientific efforts.
“The thing about Burt is that he never went out and said, ‘This is what I did,’” says Michael Lubell, a physicist at City College of New York and a former lobbyist with the American Physical Society (APS) in Washington, D.C. “He was content with the outcome.”
Richter won nearly instant scientific fame in 1974 when he and his team at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (now SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory) in Menlo Park, California, smashed together high-energy electrons and positrons to produce a new particle which they dubbed the ψ. The discovery was key because the ψ turned out to be made of a particle called the charm quark and its antimatter partner. At essentially the same time, a team at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, discovered the same particle, which they called the J. The particle is still called the J/ψ.