Martin Lewis Perl Biography

Martin Lewis Perl, a renowned American physicist, made groundbreaking contributions to the field of particle physics by discovering the tau lepton, a subatomic particle. Despite initially hesitating to pursue a career in research, Perl’s exceptional intellect and passion for physics led him to obtain a PhD in the subject. After spending eight years at the University of Michigan, Perl joined the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), where he made his most significant discovery. Through years of experimentation, Perl successfully established the existence of the tau particle, a feat that was initially met with skepticism but later earned him the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics in 1995.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 87
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Teri Hoch Perl, father: Fay Perl, mother: Oscar Perl
  • Physicists
  • American Men
  • Died on: September 30, 2014
  • Place of death: Palo Alto, California
  • City: New York City
  • U.S. State: New Yorkers
  • Education: NYU-Poly and Columbia University
  • Awards: Nobel Prize in Physics in 1995

Childhood & Early Life

Martin Lewis Perl was born on June 24, 1927 in New York City, New York to Fay and Oscar Perl. His parents were Jewish who had immigrated to the USA from Polish-occupied Russia. His mother worked as a secretary and bookkeeper for a textile firm while his father worked as a stationery salesman before founding his own printing and advertising company.

Academics and Career Choices

Academically, Perl was a bright student. Upon completing his early education, he enrolled at James Madison High School in 1942. Despite being a good student and winning a physics prize, Perl did not aim to become a scientist as he wasn’t sure if he could make a living out of the profession. As such, he chose chemical engineering over physics research.

Following high school, he enrolled at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn for a course in chemical engineering. However, with the onset of World War II, he left his studies to take up a course in the United States Merchant Marine Academy. For a year, he was drafted into the army. Post war, he resumed his studies and graduated from the institute in 1948.

Pursuing Physics

Perl’s interest in physics was sparked during a course in atomic physics and advanced calculus at Union College. He decided to study physics formally and graduated as a physics student in 1950. He then enrolled at Columbia University for a PhD under the guidance of Isidor Isaac Rabi. He received his PhD in 1955.

Career at University of Michigan and Stanford

After completing his PhD, Perl worked at the University of Michigan for eight years, studying the scattering of pions and later neutrons on protons. In 1963, he moved to Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in California. At Stanford, Perl focused on understanding the muon and conducted a series of experiments to explore its properties.

Discovery of the Tau Lepton

Perl’s experiments at SLAC led to the discovery of a new particle, the tau lepton, in 1975. The discovery was initially met with skepticism, but Perl and his group collected data and established the existence of the tau lepton, which was 3500 times as massive as an electron. The tau lepton, along with the electron and muon, formed a triad of elementary particles.

Later Career and Contributions

Perl continued his research on quarks even after his discovery of the tau lepton. He collaborated with scientists at SLAC on various projects, including research on dark energy. He also held academic positions at the University of Michigan, Stanford University, and the University of Liverpool.

Major Works and Awards

Perl’s most significant achievement was the discovery of the tau lepton, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1995. He shared the prize with physicist Frederick Reines, who discovered the neutrino. Perl also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Belgrade in 2009.

Personal Life and Legacy

Martin Lewis Perl was married to Teri Hoch Perl and had three sons and a daughter. He passed away on September 30, 2014 at Stanford University Hospital due to a heart attack. Perl was known for his love of construction toys, which he believed could inspire experimental creativity in people.

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