Sunday, May 31, 2015

Martin Swarzchild

Martin Swarzchild was born on May 31, 1912 in Potsdam, Germany to a German-Jewish family. His father, Karl, was the director of the Postdam observatory, which having been visited by Albert Einstein in 1913, was being outfitted to make oberservations to verify his general theory of relativity when World War I broke out. Karl enlisted in the German army and while he served in the German trenches on the eastern front he solved Einstein's equations for a point mass, we now call a black hole, and the distance of the event horizon above a non-rotating black hole is called the Swarzchild Radius. The even horizon of a black hole is the distance away from which nothing, not  even light can escape. Karl died in 1916 of pemphigus an autoimmune skin disease.

After his father's death his mother took Schwarzchild to Gottingen, Germany where he attended gymnasium school. Swarzchild attended Gottingen University first studying mathematics for a year, after which he went to Berlin University where he studied astronomy, after which he returned to Gottingen University where he finished his doctorate in astronomy in 1835. Because of Hitler's rise to power in Germany, Swarzchild took a fellowship in Oslo, Norway and after a month in England he emigrated to the united states in 1937, becoming a citizen in 1942. Swarzchild served in the United States Army Intelligence, earning the Legion of Merit and a Bronze Star. After fellowship at Harvard University and a lectureship at Columbia University, Swarzchild was appointed to a full professorship at Princeton University in 1947. He became the Higgins Professor of Astronomy in 1951.

Swarzchild's early research dealt with calibrating the size of the universe and determining its rate of expansion. He observed variable stars that were used as distance markers in determining the rate of the universe's expansion. He also researched stellar evolution (the life cycles of stars) and his text Structure and Evolution of Stars (1958) was a classic text on  the subject. He used early computers to work on astronomical problems. Using a balloon borne telescope Swarzchild was the first to observe the photoshphere (the outer layer) of the sun and the Andromeda Galaxy without atmospheric interference, demonstrating the potential for this type of observations now done by the Hubble Telescope.

Swarzchild retired in 1979 although he continued to work on galactic classification. In his life Swarzchild received numerous awards, including the Bruce Medal (1965), Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1969), and the National Medal of Science (1997).

Swarzchild died on April 10, 1997.


Ostriker, Jeramiah; "Martin Swarzchild: April 31, 1912 - April 10, 1997": in Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science; 2013; National Academy Press

"Martin Swarzchild"; Physics Today (1997)35:12:90-91\

Martin Swarzchild Wikipedia Entry