Union of Concerned Scientists Cofounder Kurt Gottfried Dies at 93


KUrt Gottfried, a physicist, author and activist, died on August 25 at the age of 93. He co-founded the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in the 1960s and was a staunch advocate of nuclear disarmament, action on climate change and scientist participation in public discourse.

Gottfried was born in Vienna on May 17, 1929, the son of two chemists who had doctorates The New York Times. The Gottfrieds’ house was attacked by Nazis during the pogrom night in November 1938. The family fled to Canada via Belgium and eventually settled in Montreal. Gottfried attended nearby McGill University and studied physics, graduating in 1952. He then attended graduate school at MIT, where he stayed with another physics student, Henry Kendall, with whom he later founded UCS (Kendall would go on to win that too). 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics). After receiving his doctorate in 1955, Gottfried married Sorel Dickstein and they had two children, David and Laura, according to his obituary.

He completed two fellowships at Harvard University before becoming an assistant professor there in 1960. His next move was in 1964 to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he worked on the fundamentals of quantum mechanics with a focus on quark-antiquark pairs. according to his personal profile. During his time at Cornell, he held various management positions and retired in 1998 as Professor Emeritus.

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Gottfried is best known for his activities outside of the laboratory. In 1969, he became increasingly concerned about the Vietnam War—then at its height—and the role of scientists in researching and developing devastating weapons. Gottfried and Kendall hosted an event on the MIT campus on March 4 of this year where they called on scientists to unite and speak out against what Gottfried often called “abuse of science.” The Union of Concerned Scientists was born, and Gottfried was active on its board from the start. He has also authored three books and many articles on scientific responsibility over the years, arguing that scientists should spend time making advances that benefit humanity, not destroy it. After leaving Cornell, Gottfried served as Chairman of UCS from 1999 to 2009.

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“Kurt clearly believed that scientists have an obligation to engage in public policy-shaping efforts at the interface between science and society,” says Peter Lepage, professor emeritus in physics Cornell Chronicle. “He has shown us all how this can be effectively achieved with his extensive work spanning more than four decades on issues such as nuclear arms control, international human rights, climate change and scientific integrity in policy making.”

He spent the last decade of Gottfried’s life with his wife in a nursing home in Ithaca. He was passed away by his wife last year and is survived by his two children, four grandchildren and sister.



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