Sulamith Goldhaber

1923 – 1965

by Luis Alvarez

Sulamith Löw was born in Vienna on November 4, 1923. Her parents, Abraham Löw (1884–1960) and Tova Reinisch (1891–1956) were both born in Galicia which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. They married in 1908. Her father was a businessman and her mother a homemaker. In 1910 her brother Samuel was born and in 1915 the family moved to Vienna where her sister Lola was born in 1917. The home environment was Orthodox and Zionist.

In 1938 the family emigrated to Palestine, settling in Tel Aviv where Sulamith completed her high school education and in 1940 she continued her education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem where she met her future husband Gerson Goldhaber. Gerson and Sulamith both received their masters degrees in 1947, the year they were married. They then went to the United States where they attended the University of Wisconsin and earned their doctorates. From 1951 to 1953 Gerson had a junior faculty appointment at Columbia, working with the cyclotron, and Sula was a research associate in radiochemistry. Radiochemistry was an “intermediate state” that permitted her to learn and apply the techniques of nuclear physics and thereby make the otherwise “forbidden transition” from her original field of physical chemistry to high energy physics.

By the time Gerson came to Berkeley as an assistant professor in 1953, he and Sula had become one of the most competent American teams in the art and science of nuclear emulsion technology. They worked long hours together, setting up developing facilities for their emulsions and training a team of scanners and measurers. They had their eyes firmly on the Bevatron, which was about to become the world’s most powerful accelerator. From its earliest operating days, one or both of them seemed always to be waiting in a corner of the control room, in the hope that the busy crew would grant them a quick exposure of some kind. Because of their perseverence, they were rewarded with some of the earliest and most interesting observations of the interactions of negative K mesons with protons.

Sula gave a memorable introductory talk on heavy mesons and hyperons at the 1956 Rochester Conference; much of what she reported was her own work. More than any other event in the history of the Rochester Conferences, her talk marked the turning point in the study of strange particles. Before then, cosmic ray physicists had reported almost all the experimental data; from then on, the field belonged almost exclusively to accelerator users.

Sula’s bibliography shows many important papers among the 25 publications that resulted from her concentrated attack on Bevatron problems using the nuclear emulsion techniques. As examples, she and Gerson were the first to observe the mass splitting of the charged Sigma hyperons, and she, working with most of the Berkeley exponents of the nuclear emulsion technique, observed the first nuclear interactions of the newly discovered antiprotons.

In the early 1960’s, it became apparent that Sula Goldhaber should switch her attention from nuclear emulsions to bubble chambers. So she and Gerson teamed with George Trilling in the formation of what is frequently called the Goldhaber-Trilling Group. After a transition period in which she published simultaneously on nuclear events in emulsion, propane, and hydrogen, she concentrated her scientific attention on liquid hydrogen bubble chambers for the rest of her life.

Sula attacked the problems of hydrogen bubble chamber physics with the enthusiasm and vigor that had characterized all her earlier work. She was soon an acknowledged expert in the field, as her list of invited papers amply demonstrates. She was in great demand as a speaker at international conferences; she always had important things to say, and she expressed herself beautifully. Her contributions in this last period of her life are so well known that they hardly need to be recalled. She and her associates were long the world’s experts on the interactions of K + mesons with nucleons, and she played important roles in the discoveries of several “resonant states,” most notably the A mesons. She and Gerson first measured the spin of the K* meson; they are credited with the first study of the simultaneous production of pairs of resonant states, and they devised the “triangle diagram” to aid in such studies.

In the fall of 1965, Sula and Gerson started around the world on a sabbatical tour, visiting high energy physics laboratories, attending conferences, and giving lectures. Their first stop was at Oxford, to attend the biennial European conference on high energy physics. Sula had invested much of her last year in turning the Berkeley Hough-Powell device into a productive system, so she visited CERN to exchange ideas on automatic film measurement. She then lectured at Ankara, and spent the month of November at the Weizmann Institute, preparing the series of lectures she was to give in Madras.

But in Madras, she was suddenly stricken with a brain hemorrhage. Exploratory surgery revealed a brain tumor, and she died without recovering consciousness. To her countless friends all over the world, it was an unbelievable shock. It did not seem possible that someone who personified so much that was youthful and vivacious could suddenly be removed from our midst.

Sula had a fierce loyalty to all the things she loved, and they were many: her family, her religion, her two adopted countries, her science, her laboratory, and her friends. She managed concurrently to be several quite different, always attractive and effective persons: a distinguished scientist, a remarkable homemaker and hostess, and a devoted wife and mother. She will be missed for her important contributions to the many fields in which she labored, but most of all she will be missed for the personal warmth she always radiated. She was a fine scientist and a real woman.

In 1965 the School of Physics and Astronomy at Tel Aviv University inaugurated an annual Sulamit Goldhaber Memorial Lecture. Among the distinguished lecturers were three Nobel Laureates: Professors Murray Gell-Mann, Steven Weinberg and Carlo Rubbia.

Sulamith is survived by her brother Samuel, a heart physician who lives in Tel Aviv, her sister Lola Capel who lives in New York, her husband Gerson who lives in Berkeley, California and her only son Nathaniel who was born in 1948 and also resides in Berkeley.

Some Important Contributions with Gerson Goldhaber and Others as Stated

Measured lifetime of K Mesons

Measured lifetime of tau mesons, with Luis Alvarez

Measured mass of K meson

Measured spin of K* meson, with Luis Alvarez

Early observations of interaction between K mesons and protons

First to observe mass splitting of charged sigma hyperons

Using nuclear emulsion techniques, first to observe nuclear interactions of antiprotons

Observed interactions of pi+ and pi- mesons

Observation of three pion resonance

Detected anti-proton annihilation process; K plus nuclear interaction, Sigma plus - Sigma minus electromagnetic mass difference, dynamics of elementary particle resonance and double resonance formation.

Co-discoverer of A mesons

Credited with the simultaneous production of pairs of resonant states; devised “triangle diagram”

Some Important Publications

“Mean Lifetime of Positive K Mesons,” Phys. Rev. 99: 1617 (1955), with E.L. Iloff, W.W. Chupp, G. Goldhaber, J.E. Lannuttii, A. Pevsner, and D. Ritson.

“The Lifetime of the tau-Meson,” Nuovo Cimento (Series 10) 2: 344 (1955), with W. Alvarez.

“K-meson Mass from a K-hydrogen Scattering Event,” Phys. Rev. 99: 1042 (1955), with W.W. Chupp, G. Goldhaber, W.R. Johnson, and J.E. Lannutti.

“Example of anti-proton nucleon annihilation” Phys. Rev. 102,921

(1956),with O. Chamberlain et al.

“Properties of Negative K-mesons,” Nuovo Cimento 8: 899 (1958), with F.H. Webb, E.L. Iloff, F.H. Featherston, W.W. Chupp, and G. Goldhaber.

“Pion-Pion Correlations in Antiproton Annihilation Events,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 3: 181 (1959), with G. Goldhaber, W.B. Fowler, T. Hoang, T.E. Kalogeropoulos, and W.M. Powell.

“Pi-pi correlations in p p-bar annihilation,” Phys. Rev.120,300, (1960) with G. Goldhaber, W.Lee and A.Pais.(known as the GGLP effect)

“On the Spin of the K* Resonance,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 9: 330 (1962), with W. Chinowsky, G. Goldhaber, W. Lee, and T.O’Halloran.

Copyright © University of California, Berkeley


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Sulamith Goldhaber sits at her desk, October 18, 1963.
Courtesy of Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley

How to cite this page

Alvarez, Luis. "Sulamith Goldhaber." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 16, 2021) <>.


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