Thursday, July 24, 2008

Einstein's Last Assistant

Dr. Bruria Kaufman, Einstein's last research assistant at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, turns 90 years old this year. She has had an extraordinary career, including collaborations with an amazing number of well-known scientists from various fields.

As a young researcher, she worked with Lars Onsager, a famous statistical physicist and Nobel-Prize-winning chemist, and John von Neumann, the Hungarian mathematician who was one of the great geniuses of the 20th century and helped invent the computer. She then spent time working with Einstein during his final days.

At the age of 27, during the 1955 Jubilee (50th anniversary) of relativity in Bern, she had the sad task of delivering Einstein's final paper on unified field theory. Her brilliant mentor had just passed away.

These varied areas of research are impressive in and of themselves. But then she collaborated with and married Zellig Harris, the founder of structural linguistics who advised Noam Chomsky. So she had yet another career as a prominent linguist.

Harris died in 1992, at the age of 82. In 1996, Kaufman married Nobel laureate physicist Willis Lamb, who was 83 at the time. She had known him from years earlier. Lamb was famous for having discovered the quantum phenomenon known as the Lamb shift, one of the earliest indications of virtual particles in the vacuum. They collaborated, later divorced, and Lamb recently died.

It is hard to think of a living scientist who has had a more diverse career than Dr. Kaufman.

1 comment:

Chris said...

When did she divorce Lamb?