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VOL. 22, NO. 21APRIL 18, 1997

Leading Physicist Joaquin Luttinger, 73

By Bob Nelson

J. Luttinger.
Joaquin Mazdak Luttinger, a leading theorist in solid state physics for whom Luttinger liquids are named, died at Mount Sinai Medical Center Apr. 6. He was professor emeritus of physics at Columbia, where he taught for 33 years. He was 73.

  He died of complications resulting from myelodysplasia, a cancer of the bone marrow for which he had undergone treatment for the last three years. He was known to all as "Quin."

  "Quin Luttinger was one of the world's leading theorists in condensed matter physics and field theory," said T.D. Lee, Nobel laureate and University Professor at Columbia. In the 1950s, Luttinger published theoretical papers on effective mass theory and on the quantum theory of electrical conductivity that have since become central to the field of semiconductors, according to a longtime collaborator and friend, Walter Kohn, professor emeritus of physics and research professor at U.C.-Santa Barbara. He also proposed that superconductivity does not require the presence of lattice vibrations, a theory confirmed when high-temperature superconductors were discovered in 1985.

  In the sixties, he turned increasingly to mathematical models as an explanatory tool in the field of electron interactions, and began to consider models of one-dimensional electrons constrained to move only along a line. He proposed that their behavior was similar to that of a liquid but qualitatively different from that theorized by Soviet physicist and Nobelist Lev Davidovich Landau.

  More recently, organic molecules have been discovered in which electrons evidence the behaviors Luttinger predicted. There has been a strong renewal of interest among condensed matter theorists and superconductivity researchers in so-called Luttinger liquids, Kohn said.

  He was born in New York City on Dec. 2, 1923. He earned an S.B. and PhD in physics from MIT and joined Columbia as professor of physics with tenure, a post he retained until retiring in 1993, when he was designated professor emeritus.

  He spent his summers from 1953 into the 1970s conducting research at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., the earlier of those years with Kohn. The collaboration produced fundamental contributions to many-body quantum theory, according to Richard Friedberg, professor of physics at Barnard.

  He served as chairman of the department of physics from 1977 to 1980.

  In addition to his former wife Abigail Thomas, he is survived by a brother, a sister, a daughter and three stepchildren..

  A memorial service will be held in St. Paul's Chapel Apr. 29 at 1:00 P.M.