Joseph Weber bigraphy, stories - American physicist

Joseph Weber : biography

17 May 1919 - 30 September 2000

Joseph Weber (May 17, 1919 – September 30, 2000) was an American physicist. He gave the earliest public lecture on the principles behind the laser and the maser and developed the first gravitational wave detectors (Weber bars).

Early education

Joe Weber graduated from Paterson Eastside High School (and the Paterson Talmud Torah) in Paterson, New Jersey in the midst of the Depression. He began his undergraduate education at Cooper Union, but to save his family the expense of his room and board he won admittance to the United States Naval Academy through a competitive exam. He graduated from the Academy in 1940.. Retrieved on 2011-05-17.

Naval career

He served aboard US Navy ships during WWII, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. A memorable experience was his service on the "Lady Lex" USS Lexington (CV-2). Weber was the Officer of the Deck on the Lexington when the ship received word of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the Battle of the Coral Sea his carrier sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō and was in turn mortally damaged on May 8, 1942. Weber often regaled his students with the story of how the Lexington glowed incandescent as she slipped beneath the waves.

Later, he commanded the sub-chaser SC-690, first in the Caribbean, and later in the Mediterranean Sea. In that role, he took part in the invasion of Sicily at Gela Beach, in July, 1943.. Retrieved on 2011-05-17.. Retrieved on 2011-05-17.

He studied electronics at the Naval Postgraduate School in 1943, and from 1945–1948, he headed electronic countermeasures design for the Navy's Bureau of Ships, in Washington, DC. He resigned from the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander in 1948 to become a professor of engineering.


Although his attempts to find gravitational waves with bar detectors are considered to have failed, Weber is widely regarded as the father of gravitational wave detection efforts, including LIGO, MiniGrail, and several HFGW research programs around the world. His notebooks contained ideas for laser interferometers; later such a detector was first constructed by his former student Robert Forward at Hughes Research Laboratories.

The Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation was named in his honor.

Personal life

Weber was the youngest of four children born in Paterson, New Jersey, to Yiddish-speaking immigrant parents. His name was "Yonah" until he entered grammar school. He had no birth certificate, and his father had taken the last name of "Weber" to match an available passport in order to emigrate to the US. Thus, Joe Weber had little proof of either his family or his given name, which gave him some trouble in obtaining a passport at the height of the red scare.

His first marriage, to his high school classmate Anita Straus, ended with her death in 1971. His second marriage was to astronomer Virginia Trimble. He had 4 sons (from his first marriage), and six grandchildren.

On his religious views, Weber was an atheist."We typically never squabbled very much. If we disagreed, it was about scientific issues. He didn't believe the observational evidence for the cosmological constant, and I think it's highly probable. He was raised as an Orthodox Jew and we both attended Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim. He was actually an atheist, who wanted to maintain Jewish traditions. It was another thing we didn't have to disagree about. We both agreed that modern cosmology provided a better picture of the early universe than does the book of Genesis." Virginia Trimble, Weber's wife, quoted in Physics and Society, Vol. 30 No. 4, p.24-25.

Early Post-Naval Career; Development of the MASER

In 1948, he joined the engineering faculty of the University of Maryland, College Park. A condition of his appointment was that he should quickly attain a PhD. Thus, he did his PhD studies, on microwave spectroscopy, at night, while already a faculty member. He completed his PhD, with a thesis entitled Microwave Technique in Chemical Kinetics, from The Catholic University of America in 1951. During the course of his doctoral research, he worked out the idea of coherent microwave emissions, and gave the earliest public lecture on the principles behind the laser and the maser at the Electron Tube Research Conference held in Ottawa in 1952. These ideas were developed simultaneously by Charles Townes, Nikolay Basov, and Aleksandr Prokhorov, who built working prototypes of these devices, and received the Nobel Prize for this work in 1964.

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Living octopus

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