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Robert L. Golden (1940–1995)

Published onJan 01, 1997
Robert L. Golden (1940–1995)

Professor Robert L. Golden of New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, died on 7 April 1995 after a brief illness. He was director of the Particle Astrophysics Laboratory and taught classes in electrical engineering. He was well known not only for his jubilant outgoing personality but also for the discovery of anti-protons in galactic cosmic rays and research into the properties of cosmic ray electrons (of both charges).

Bob (born 28 July 1940) was a student of Luis Alvarez and received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1966 (joining the AAS in that same year). Following a brief period as research associate at UCB and a year at Case Western Reserve, Bob went to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) where he built the balloon gondola and magnetic rigidity spectrometer that were the foundation of his research. Thus began what would become almost annual balloon flights to study the galactic cosmic rays. Bob also served JSC as its principal advisor on space physics and chief of its space physics branch.

When, in 1978, JSC decided to get out of the space physics business, Bob moved himself and his payload to New Mexico State University. He was named associate professor and given tenure in 1980 and promoted to full professor in 1985. Bob served on numerous advisory committees to NASA including the Astrophysics Council, the High Energy Astrophysics Management Operations Working Group, and the Cosmic Ray Program Working Group. He was also chair of the panel on Assembly and Service Operations of NASA's Space Station Advisory Group.

While at JSC, Bob was a member of the team that proposed a superconducting magnet as part of the payload for the High Energy Astrophysics Observatory (HEAO) , and it was selected for flight on the second of the two missions. Unfortunately, this experiment was never flown because the mission was "descoped" by NASA in 1971. Bob never gave up, and during a 1979 balloon flight, his payload detected anti-protons in primary galactic cosmic rays (anti-protons were, of course, first discovered as cosmic ray secondaries in the 1930's). Building on this success, Bob formed a multinational collaboration called "WiZard: A Program to Measure Cosmic Ray Antiprotons and Positrons and Search for Primordial Antimatter." They flew the same basic gondola with new trackers and other detectors to measure the depth profile of muon secondaries in the earth's atmosphere (a potential indicator of neutrino oscillations) and, most recently, the WiZard team has confirmed that the antiproton flux is consistent with production in the galaxy by heavy cosmic rays colliding with interstellar gas. They have also placed new limits on heavier antimatter in the GCRs.

Shortly before his death, Bob was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal "for discovering antiprotons in cosmic rays and leading the development of superconducting magnet spectrometers for space-based and balloon-borne investigations of the cosmic radiation." This is the highest NASA honor possible for non-government employees.

Golden had two dreams that unfortunately went unrealized: to be an astronaut and to fly a magnetic rigidity spectrometer in space. But he had many others that were realized. In his garage sat a red sports car that had to wait while he was out flying his plane. Many colleagues and friends were inspired by his dedication to science and his love for life. His informal style, cowboy hats, and "place" in New Mexico also remain as lasting images of a dear friend and colleague.

Bob is survived by his wife, Barbara Kimbell (also program manager at the NMSU particle astrophysics lab); son, John Kimbell Golden; daughter, Lisa Golden; mother, Helen Golden; and mother-in-law Lee Kimbell.


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