Walter Greiner 1935 - 2016
03 March 2017
The international nuclear physics community mourns the loss of one of our illustrious colleague, Walter Greiner. He was a renowned scholar, scientific pioneer, famed educator, and good friend. Born in Thuringia, his family moved to Frankfurt am Main, where he was first educated as a mechanic. He studied physics at Goethe University (B.Sc. in 1959), swiftly moved on to Technische Hochschule Darmstadt, where he earned his M.Sc. diploma in 1960. In the following year, with Hans Marschall at the University of Freiburg, Walter earned his Ph.D.
From 1962–1964, as an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, he met his lifelong friend Judah Moshe Eisenberg. They started to work on their seminal monograph “Theoretical Nuclear Physics I-III,” a textbook-must for generations of nuclear physicists. Walter Greiner swiftly acquired a reputation of an excellent, visionary scholar—his lecture notes on Theoretical Physics comprise a series of textbooks, translated into numerous languages.
In 1964 Walter went to Goethe University as Chair and Director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics. More than 150 students earned their Ph.D.s under his supervision. In 1965, he and his colleagues started the Hessian universities’ initiative for a national heavy-ion laboratory for fundamental research, which materialized into the world-leading center for heavy ion research, GSI, which is now poised to host the international next-generation Facility for Hadron and Ion Research (FAIR in Europe), presently under construction.
Walter became Dean of the faculty at Goethe University in 2001/02. He was founding Director of the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) in 2003, where he remained active as senior fellow. Walter’s scientific breadth, creativity, and productivity were astounding, with more than one thousand published scientific articles. With more than 40,000 citations and an h-index above 100 he was one of the most cited scientists, worldwide.
He was awarded numerous honorary doctorates, received the Max-Born prize of the German Physical Society and the Institute of Physics, London, the Otto Hahn prize, Frankfurt, the Alexander von Humboldt medal, Berlin and he was an Officier dans l’Ordre Palmes Académiques, Paris.
In nuclear structure and reactions, he developed, with his friend Amand Faessler, the rotation-vibration collective model. He predicted different proton and neutron deformations in nuclei, created the Dynamic Collective Model of giant resonances, devised the eigenchannel theory of nuclear reactions, generalized the Collective Model and predicted the existence and properties of superheavy nuclei. He and his students developed the Two-Center Shell Model and the theory of nuclear molecules, and a new form of “cluster” radioactivity. Coulomb-barrier heavy ion physics and quantum electrodynamics, in particular of strong and overcritical fields, the “decay of the vacuum”, the theory of supercritical electronic quasimolecules in heavy-ion collisions, and atomic physics were among his many physics passions.
He pioneered the field of relativistic heavy-ion physics, predicting that nuclear matter could be heated and compressed in central collisions of heavy nuclei via the creation of shock waves. He predicted that this primordial matter at high pressure can be detected by its strong 'explosive' collective flow.
Walter also predicted a mechanism for production of clusters of antimatter and strange matter from the correlated vacuum and an extension of the periodic system to include strangeness. He contributed to General Relativity theory and to biological science.
Walter was also deeply concerned with the impact of science on society. He realized that scientific collaborations can serve as a spur to reconcile adversaries and that fundamental science must reach society. With Judah Eisenberg, he initiated a fruitful scientific exchange between universities in Israel, Palestine and Germany.
We remember and celebrate Walter as one of our field’s most talented and passionate members. He was a father for his students, a warm friend to colleagues. His legacy of contributions to our field, and the worldwide collaborative interactions he helped form, will long continue.
Dirk Rischke, Goethe Universität, Horst Stöcker, GSI Darmstadt, FiAS and Goethe Universität Frankfurt