Burton Richter Biography


Birthday: March 22, 1931 (Aries)

Born In: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Burton Richter was an American scientist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1976, for his work on the discovery of a new subatomic particle ‘psi’. Burton also served as the head of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre (SLAC) for fifteen years, from 1984 to 1999. The department made enormous progress during his tenure. In 1974, he led the SLAC team which co-discovered the J/ψ meson. He pursued his university education at the elite Massachusetts Institute of Technology and it was here that he developed an interest in quantum electrodynamics. The better facilities available at Stanford University made him quit Massachusetts Institute of Technology and join the former, where he worked at the High Energy Physics Laboratory. He worked with some of the leading scientists of his time and contributed in creating a colliding beam machine that was the first machine of the kind.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 87


Spouse/Ex-: Laurose Becker

father: Abraham Richter

mother: Fanny Pollack

Born Country: United States

Physicists American Men

Died on: July 18, 2018

place of death: Stanford, California, U.S.

City: Brooklyn, New York City

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

awards: 1976 - Nobel Prize in Physics
2010 - Enrico Fermi Award
2011 - Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science - Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century
2014 - National Medal of Science for Physical Science

Childhood & Early Life

Burton Richter was born on March 22, 1931, in Brooklyn, New York City, to Albert Richter, and his wife, Fanny. His father was employed in the textile industry.

Burton studied at the well-known Far Rockaway High School located in New York. The school had also been attended by Nobel Laureates like Richard Feynman and Baruch Samuel Blumberg. Subsequently, he attended the exclusive private boarding school Mercersburg Academy located in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.

After graduating from high school, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to study physics or chemistry as a major. However, he opted for physics and graduated in the subject in 1952. Four years later he earned his doctorate from the same institute.

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Throughout his years as a student and research scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he became curious in the theories related to quantum electrodynamics and wanted to explore the subject in a more detailed manner.
In 1956, Burton Richter joined Stanford University as a research associate at the High Energy Physics Laboratory. He made discoveries in relation to electron position pairs and established a new limit to the validity of quantum electrodynamics theories.

In 1957, he collaborated with G.K. O’Neill, W.C. Barber and B. Gittelman to create a colliding beam machine that would help researchers in studying electron-electron scattering on a much larger centre of mass. The project was completed after six years and the machine was the first of its kind.

In 1967, he was appointed as a full professor at Stanford University. After having struggled to obtain the funds required to build a high energy electron positron machine he was finally given the funds by the US Atomic Energy Commission to build the Stanford Positron Electron Asymmetric Ring or SPEAR.

He worked on SPEAR with David Ritson and in 1973, they successfully built it. However, even more importantly, he used the SPEAR to discover a new particle that was subatomic in nature. He named the particle psi. Samuel Ting made the same discovery in a different project.

In 1984, Burton Richter was appointed as the director of Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre and he remained in the position for 15 years. His studies on beam dynamics as well as accelerator physics were particularly notable.

He was a member of the JASON advisory group, an independent group of scientists which advises the United States government on matters of science and technology. He also served on the board of directors of Scientists and Engineers for America; the organization promotes sound science in American government.

Major Works

His most important work is the discovery of the subatomic particle psi that later came to be known as psi/j meson as another scientist had simultaneously discovered the particle in an independent study. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics for that discovery.

Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 1975.

Burton Richter and Samuel Ting shared Nobel Prize in Physics in 1976 "for their pioneering work in the discovery of a heavy elementary particle of a new kind".

In 2010, Burton Richter was awarded the Enrico Fermi Award by the US Department of Energy.

Personal Life, Legacy & Death

Burton Richter married Laurose Becker in 1960. The couple had a daughter named Elizabeth and a son named Matthew.


Burton Richter died on July 18, 2018, of heart failure. He was 87.

See the events in life of Burton Richter in Chronological Order

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