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Robert J. Gould (1935–2009)

Gould conducted fundamental theoretical research on the emission and absorption of radio waves, the cosmic microwave background, infrared line emission from planetary nebulae, and excitation conditions in HII regions.

Published onMay 07, 2022
Robert J. Gould (1935–2009)

Photo courtesy of the authors.

Robert J. (Bob) Gould, a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) for more than four decades, died on June 15, 2009 in La Jolla, California. He was 74.

While at UCSD, Gould wrote influential papers on atomic and nuclear processes with applications to astrophysics, and through his skillful mentoring, served as a valuable guide to many young scientists, including both of us.

Gould was born May 31,1935, in Providence, Rhode Island, and began his studies at Providence College, where he obtained a B.S. in Physics in 1956. He attended graduate school at Cornell University, where he studied under Thomas Gold and Edwin Salpeter. After graduating from Cornell, Gould moved to UCSD, where he became a faculty member in the Physics Department in 1964. He remained at UCSD throughout his career, retiring in 2005.

A solid grasp of the underlying physics was a hallmark of all of Bob’s work. Indeed, if one wanted to understand the processes involved, his papers were often a good place to start. Bob had the insight and skills to explain important results starting from first principles, and he was a master at developing accurate analytic approximations. His skill is perhaps best displayed in his book, “Electromagnetic Processes,” which was described by one reviewer as “… a remarkable intellectual achievement. Few books make such a valiant and successful effort to explain the physics of these processes.”

Bob’s work ranged over the electromagnetic spectrum with significant papers on the emission and absorption of radio waves, the cosmic microwave background, infrared line emission from planetary nebulae, and excitation conditions in HII regions. He also wrote influential papers on the production and absorption of cosmic X-rays, on the opacity of the universe to high energy photons, and on cosmic gamma ray emission from pion decay. Two 1970 papers, one with Robert Brown on the interstellar absorption of X-rays, and a “Reviews of Modern Physics” paper with George Blumenthal on radiation from high energy electrons traversing dilute gases, became classics in the field. In related work, he also wrote significant papers on the physical processes in relativistic plasmas.

Most of his papers had just one author, and those few with a co-author were predominantly with one of his graduate students. This tendency to “go it alone” was reflected in his private life, although his friends always found him accessible and welcoming. Indeed, Bob went to great effort to include graduate students in all the intellectual and social events of the physics department. He enjoyed sports, especially surfing and tennis, and in keeping with his approach to physics, worked hard to become good at both. He was seen so often in tennis whites that new students sometimes wondered why the tennis coach was so often at the physics department. Bob also had the occasional indulgence: he was the only person we have known who owned a DeLorean.

See also Gould’s AstroGen information.

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