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Wolfgang Panofsky, at 88 made key physics discoveries

LOS ANGELES - Wolfgang "Pief" Panofsky, the nuclear physicist and brilliant administrator who was the driving force for the creation of Stanford University's 2-mile-long linear electron accelerator, made crucial discoveries about the nature of the neutral pi meson, advised three presidents about science, and was a proponent of nuclear arms control, died of a heart attack Monday at his home in Los Altos, Calif. He was 88.

"The world has lost a truly great man," said physicist Persis Drell, acting director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator, or SLAC. "Pief's impact on particle physics was enormous, but in addition, everyone will remember him for his unflinching integrity, personal warmth, and desire to fight for the principles he believed in."

Said John Etchemendy, Stanford provost: "Pief Panofsky's contributions to SLAC and the field of physics have certainly earned him a place in Stanford's pantheon of scholars. But it is equally important to note that his work on nuclear arms control earned him a reputation not just as a scientist, but as a patriot whose life will continue to influence and inspire us for generations to come."

Stanford had a modest reputation in electron physics when Dr. Panofsky joined the faculty in 1951. But an upgrade of the university's Mark III linear accelerator had gone awry when its designer, William W. Hansen, had died two years earlier.

Among other problems, the lengthening of the accelerator to enable it to reach its designed energy goal of one billion electron volts had left the beam end of the accelerator only 6 inches shy of the laboratory wall, leaving no room for experimental apparatus.

Dr. Panofsky designed a experimental station with a "beam switchyard" that shunted beams at selected energies into a variety of experimental apparatus. By 1953, the Mark III was running full tilt, and Dr. Panofsky and Edward Ginzton had established a physics laboratory in which Dr. Panofsky took primary responsibility for particle physics research.

The following year, Dr. Henry Kaplan, Stanford Medical School cancer specialist, began using the Mark III for his pioneering studies treating retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer, and other tumors. Physicist Robert Hofstadter also used it for his studies that established the electromagnetic dimensions of the proton and neutron and heavier nuclei.

By middecade, Dr. Panofsky and Ginzton had begun planning Project M, for "the Monster," an accelerator much larger than anything that had ever been built. When Ginzton left Stanford in 1960, Dr. Panofsky took on the leadership alone. Overcoming the objections of the Stanford faculty, Dr. Panofsky insisted that the new facility be opened to all comers. And defying the wishes of the Atomic Energy Commission, which funded the project, he insisted that no classified military research be conducted there.

Late in 1961, it looked as if the Bureau of the Budget would kill the project because of its expense, more than $114 million. According to the late Jerome Wiesner of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when President John F. Kennedy found out that his science adviser, Dr. Panofsky, was its principal advocate, he became its strongest supporter and the project was approved.

He remained as director until 1984, overseeing the addition of a variety of major upgrades to the facility. Four more Nobel Prizes resulted from research done at SLAC while he was in charge.

Wolfgang Kurt Hermann Panofsky was born on April 24, 1919, in Berlin. His father was the eminent art historian Erwin Panofsky. Wolfgang and his older brother Hans showed early signs of intelligence, and Wolfgang was a strong chess player by the age of 8.

By the mid-1930s, Erwin accepted teaching posts at both Columbia and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J.

Rather than undergoing the stress of integrating into a new high school, both brothers enrolled at Princeton. Upon graduation, Wolfgang Panofsky was accepted to graduate school at both Columbia and the California Institute of Technology, but chose the latter.

Dr. Panofsky worked on war projects, including an aerial camera for tracking moving targets and a "firing error indicator" for measuring the proximity of bullets to targets. He subsequently became a consultant to the Manhattan Project for producing the atomic bomb, developing devices that were used to measure the yields of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. After the war, he took a position at the University of California's Berkeley Radiation Laboratory. Among his studies there, he and Jack Steinberger were the first to isolate the neutral pi meson - one of the subatomic particles predicted by theorists to account for the strong force binding atomic nuclei - determining its charge and mass.

The campus climate changed in 1951 when the conservative California Legislature and the university's board of regents ordered that all faculty sign an oath of loyalty, which many believed required faculty to obey the regents.

Dr. Panofsky signed, but insisted that the rights of nonsigners be protected, and objected to their firing. Eventually, he decided to resign in protest and, turning down offers from Columbia, Princeton, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, moved to Stanford.

Dr. Panofsky leaves his wife of 65 years, Adele; his stepmother, Gerda of Princeton; three sons, Richard Jacob of Rehoboth, Mass., Edward Frank of La Honda, Calif., and Steven Thomas of Ukiah, Calif.; two daughters, Margaret Ann of New York, and Carol Eleanor of Santa Cruz, Calif.; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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