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Paul Gorenstein (1934–2021)

Gorenstein was a pioneer in X-ray astronomy. He played a key role in the development of the primary detector for NASA’s Einstein Observatory, the first non-solar X-ray telescope.

Published onOct 26, 2022
Paul Gorenstein (1934–2021)

Photo credit: Jackie Cooke.

Paul Gorenstein, Senior Astrophysicist (emeritus) in the High Energy Astrophysics Division, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge passed away on November 26, 2021. He was 87.

Born in New York City to immigrant parents from Russia, Gorenstein attended The Bronx High School of Science. He earned his Bachelors in Engineering Physics from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963. Following completion of his Ph.D., he was awarded a two-year Fulbright Fellowship to work at the Frascati Laboratories of the National Institute for Nuclear Physics in Rome, Italy. Upon returning to the U.S., he accepted a position with the American Science & Engineering (AS&E), an American manufacturer of advanced X-ray equipment in Cambridge before moving to the Harvard Smithsonian in 1973.

During the “discovery years,” of X-ray astronomy at AS&E in the 1960’s Gorenstein worked closely with Riccardo Giacconi and others to set the stage for the flood of revelations that would come with the Uhuru X-ray satellite. Among his important contributions was the introduction of techniques for the design of X-ray telescopes, and he led the group that made the first X-ray images of supernova remnants and galaxies. His interest in innovative telescopes continued throughout his career, as he authored more than 100 articles on the X-ray telescopes of the future, some of which would be a thousand or more kilometers in size.

Gorenstein’s work in astrophysics reflected his broad interests. He published influential scientific articles and review papers on asteroids, the moon, sun-like stars, neutron stars, black holes, the interstellar medium, galaxies, galaxy clusters, and dark matter. One of his most important papers was the confirmation using data from the Einstein Observatory, that most of the mass in the Virgo cluster of galaxies is in the form of dark matter.

Gorenstein was awarded a NASA Medal for Outstanding Scientific Achievement and five NASA awards for contributions to new technology. He was a Fellow at the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts and also a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

While he formally retired at age 79, Gorenstein continued his research and study, presenting “The Future of High Angular Resolution X-Ray Optics for Astronomy” at age 83 at the 2017 SPIE Optics + Optoelectronics Conference in Prague. Yet, he remained humble throughout his life. When praised for his achievements, he would just respond, “I just work in a smart field.”

When not working, Gorenstein enjoyed long walks along the Charles River, classical music at Tanglewood, black coffee, dark chocolate, and most especially spending time with his daughter Caroline. He is survived by Caroline, her mother Jackie, two nephews Ethan and Gabriel, and two grandnephews Eleazer and Julian. Paul was recognized by his colleagues as a first-rate scientist and by all as a thoughtful and caring person.

Adapted from the Dignity Memorial obituary, with additional material from the Harvard-Smithsonian obituary.

For more information, see Gorenstein’s AstroGen entry,

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