Former physics prof Greenberg dies at 77

Professor emeritus of physics Jack Greenberg died March 30 at the age of 77 at the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven, where he had been receiving care for an injury since January.

Greenberg was known around the world as a leading experimental researcher in nuclear, atomic and elementary particle physics and by his friends and colleagues as a warm and outgoing individual.

He used creative measurement techniques to test theories that suggest a range of phenomena associated with beta-decay, weak nuclear interactions, collective structure in nuclei, the production of new low-mass lepton states and hyperon states, and high-energy atomic physics for studying quantum electrodynamics of strong fields.

A close friend and colleague, physics professor Jay Hirshfield, said Greenberg was exceptional for his breadth of expertise, spanning across multiple fields of physics. Hirshfield said Greenberg was also a popular and well-liked figure at Yale.

“He was known by his colleagues and students to be a very caring and meticulous individual,” he said. “His students had a very strong affection for him, and more recently would often express concern about his health and well-being.”

Hirshfield said Greenberg’s later work concerning “the sparking of the vacuum” — applying quantum mechanics and quantum field theory to vacuums– was among the most exciting of its time.

For his work in physics, Greenberg received the British Association Medal, the Rutherford Memorial Fellowship, traveling fellowships from Canada, and the Senior U.S. Scientist Award of the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation.

Another close friend, physics professor Jack Sandweiss, said his colleague also had a fun side. He said Greenberg was upbeat, well-dressed and had a strong interest in music.

“He was a really lively and interesting person,” Sandweiss said. “He always wore a smile.”

Greenberg was born May 23, 1927 in Warsaw, Poland, and he later immigrated with his family to Canada. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physics from McGill University. Greenberg received his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955 and continued training as a Rutherford Memorial Postdoctoral Fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology the following year.

Greenberg came to the University as a physics instructor in 1956, was tenured in 1966, and appointed a full professor 10 years later. He retired as an emeritus professor in 1999. At Yale, he served as director of graduate studies for physics and participated in a number of University committees in addition to holding visiting professorships at several institutions.

Physics professor emeritus Charles Sommerfield said Greenberg was known by many as a dedicated physicist who worked with the precision of a watchmaker.

“He was known as a truly fastidious researcher,” Sommerfield said. “He was always very careful and took great pains to make sure he was accurate in his work.”

A resident of New Haven, Greenberg is survived by his wife of 52 years, Belle, two children, Lise and Ezra, and granddaughter, Sydney Leah.

The Physics Department is planning a memorial service for Greenberg in the coming weeks.

Jack Greenberg
Courtesy OPA
Jack Greenberg