PALO ALTO (CBS SF) — Physicist Burton Richter, a Stanford professor emeritus, former director of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in physics, died Wednesday in Palo Alto, according to the Stanford News Service. He was 87.

Richter was the Paul Pigott professor in physical sciences at Stanford. His Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the J/psi subatomic particle, a triumph shared with MIT’s Samuel Ting, confirmed the existence of the “charm quark” and led to an overhaul of long-standing theories.

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One Nobel committee member at the time described the event as “the greatest discovery ever in the field of elementary particles.”

“Burt was unique in that he was both a particle physicist and an accelerator physicist, whereas most people are one or the other,” SLAC Director Chi-Chang Kao said in a statement. “Burt was an inspiration for us all to be bold in what we aim for.”

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Burton Richter

Burton Richter, 1931 – 2018. (Photo courtesy Stanford University)

Richter was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1931. His love of science began during nightly blackouts during World War II. While meant to foil potential air raids, the dark nights instead inspired a young Richter to shoot for the stars.

He received his undergraduate degree in 1952 and his doctorate in physics from MIT in 1956. In 1984, Richter became director of SLAC and held that position through 1999, overseeing construction of the Stanford Linear Collider. After stepping down from SLAC, Richter focused on public policy issues in science and energy. In 2010, he published “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century.”

Richter is survived by his wife, Laurose, his two children and two grandchildren.

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