Biography:Robert Hofstadter

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Short description: American physicist (1915–1990)
Robert Hofstadter
Robert Hofstadter.jpg
Robert Hofstadter (1961, Nobel Foundation photo)
Born(1915-02-05)February 5, 1915
New York City
DiedNovember 17, 1990(1990-11-17) (aged 75)
Stanford, California
Alma materCity College of New York (BS)
Princeton University (MS, PhD)
Known forElectron scattering
Atomic nuclei
Sodium iodide scintillator
Spouse(s)Nancy (Givan) Hofstadter (1920–2007) (3 children including Douglas Hofstadter)
AwardsNobel Prize in Physics (1961)
National Medal of Science (1986)
Dirac Medal (1987)
Scientific career
InstitutionsStanford University
University of Pennsylvania
Doctoral studentsCarol Jo Crannell
Robert Hofstadter.svg

Robert Hofstadter (February 5, 1915 – November 17, 1990)[1] was an American physicist. He was the joint winner of the 1961 Nobel Prize in Physics (together with Rudolf Mössbauer) "for his pioneering studies of electron scattering in atomic nuclei and for his consequent discoveries concerning the structure of nucleons".[2][3]


Hofstadter was born into a Jewish family[4][5] in New York City on February 5, 1915, to Polish immigrants, Louis Hofstadter, a salesman, and Henrietta, née Koenigsberg.[6] He attended elementary and high schools in New York City and entered City College of New York, graduating with a B.S. degree magna cum laude in 1935 at the age of 20, and was awarded the Kenyon Prize in Mathematics and Physics. He also received a Charles A. Coffin Foundation Fellowship from the General Electric Company, which enabled him to attend graduate school at Princeton University, where he earned his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the age of 23.[7] His doctoral dissertation was titled "Infra-red absorption by light and heavy formic and acetic acids."[8] He did his post-doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania and was an assistant professor at Princeton before joining Stanford University. Hofstadter taught at Stanford from 1950 to 1985.[citation needed]

In 1942 he married Nancy Givan (1920–2007), a native of Baltimore.[9] They had three children: Laura, Molly (who was disabled and not able to communicate),[10] and Pulitzer Prize-winner Douglas Hofstadter.[11]


Thallium-activated sodium iodide gamma ray detector

In 1948 Hofstadter filed a patent on this for the detection of ionizing radiation by this crystal.[12][13] These Thallium-activated sodium iodide detectors are widely used for gamma ray detection to this day.

Coining of the fermi (unit) and 1961 Nobel Lecture

Robert Hofstadter coined the term fermi, symbol fm,[14] in honor of the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–1954), one of the founders of nuclear physics, in Hofstadter's 1956 paper published in the Reviews of Modern Physics journal, "Electron Scattering and Nuclear Structure".[15] The term is widely used by nuclear and particle physicists. When Hofstadter was awarded the 1961 Nobel Prize in Physics, it subsequently appears in the text of his 1961 Nobel Lecture, "The electron-scattering method and its application to the structure of nuclei and nucleons" (December 11, 1961).[3]

Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and EGRET Telescope

In his last few years, Hofstadter became interested in astrophysics and applied his knowledge of scintillators to the design of the EGRET gamma-ray telescope of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory named for fellow Nobel Laureate in Physics (1927), Arthur Holly Compton. Stanford University's Department of Physics credits Hofstadter with being "one of the principal scientists who developed the Compton Observatory."[16]

Awards and honors

  • 1958, elected to National Academy of Sciences.[3]
  • 1961 Nobel Prize in Physics, joint winner with Rudolf Mössbauer, "for his [Hofstadter's] pioneering studies of electron scattering in atomic nuclei and for his consequent discoveries concerning the structure of nucleons."[2][17]
  • Stanford University has an annual lecture series named after Hofstadter, the Robert Hofstadter Memorial Lectures, which consists of two lectures each year, one oriented toward the general public and the other oriented toward scientists.
  • 1970, elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[18]
  • 1984 Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[19]
  • 1986, elected to the American Philosophical Society.[20]

See also

  • Fermi (unit)
  • The Big Bang Theory popular TV sitcom supposedly named one of its main characters, Leonard Hofstadter, after Hofstadter.
  • List of Jewish Nobel laureates


  1. Flint, Peter B., "Obituary: Dr. Robert Hofstadter Dies at 75; Won Nobel Prize in Physics in '61", The New York Times, November 19, 1990.
  2. 2.0 2.1 R. W. McAllister & Robert Hofstadter, "Elastic Scattering of 188 MeV Electrons from Proton and the Alpha Particle," Physical Review, V102, p. 851 (1956).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Miss nobel-id as parameter including his Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1961 The Electron-Scattering Method and Its Application to the Structure of Nuclei and Nucleons
  4. "Dr. Robert Hofstadter, U.S. Jewish Scientist, Wins 1961 Nobel Prize". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. November 3, 1961. 
  5. "Robert Hofstadter biography". NNDB. 
  6. "Guide to the Robert Hofstadter Papers". 
  7. Robert Hofstadter biography. 2001. doi:10.17226/10169. ISBN 978-0-309-07572-5. Retrieved November 5, 2014. 
  8. Hofstadter, Robert (1938) (in en). Infra-red absorption by light and heavy formic and acetic acids. Princeton. 
  9. Obituary to Nancy Givan from Stanford University, 2007.
  10. Douglas Hofstadter's autobiography
  11. National Academy of Sciences biography
  12. US patent 2585551, Robert Hofstadter, "Means for detecting ionizing radiations" 
  13. "Robert Hofstadter" Biographical Memoirs National Academy of Sciences
  14. "American National Standard for Metric Practice". IEEE Standards Library. IEEE/ASTM SI 10-2010 (Revision of IEEE/ASTM SI 10-2002) (IEEE): 78. April 11, 2011. doi:10.1109/IEEESTD.2011.5750142. ISBN 978-0-7381-6533-2. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  15. Hofstadter, Robert, Department of Physics, Stanford University, Stanford, California, "Electron Scattering and Nuclear Structure", Rev. Mod. Phys. 28, 214–254 (1956) © 1956 The American Physical Society
  16. "The Hofstadter Memorial Lectures". Stanford University. 
  17. Robert Hofstadter "The Electron Scattering Method & its Application to the Structure of Nuclei and Nucleons", Nobel Lectures, Physics 1942–1962, pp. 560–581, Elsevier Pub. Co., Amsterdam-London-New York (Dec 1961).
  18. "Robert Hofstadter" (in en). 
  19. "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement. 
  20. "APS Member History". 

Further reading

Publication list

Technical reports:

External links

  • Miss nobel-id as parameter including his Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1961 The Electron-Scattering Method and Its Application to the Structure of Nuclei and Nucleons
  • Robert Hofstadter: An Oral History, Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program, 1985.