In Memoriam: Marvin D. Girardeau

    Date Posted: 
    Wednesday, January 21, 2015

    Marvin D. Girardeau, renowned quantum physicist and research professor at the College of Optical Sciences, died on Jan. 13 in Green Valley, Arizona. He was 84.

    Prior to his appointment at the University of Arizona in 2000, Girardeau spent 37 years at the University of Oregon as a professor of physics and member of the Institute of Theoretical Science. He received a B.S. from the Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western Reserve University) in 1952; an M.S. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1954; and a Ph.D. from Syracuse University in 1958, and he held postdoctoral positions at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey; Brandeis University; Boeing Scientific Research Laboratories; and the University of Chicago. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society and recipient of a 1984 Humboldt Prize.

    OSC colleague Ewan M. Wright shared some of Girardeau's remarkable contributions:

    Although Marv nominally retired to Arizona, the years he spent at the College of Optical Sciences are arguably amongst the most productive of his career, as highlighted below.

    Marv was first and foremost a "many-body theorist," a world-renowned expert in the study of the quantum theory of many-particle systems. Never one to follow the current fad, he did not back down from difficult problems, and he produced a body of significant and lasting contributions over his career. His 1958 Ph.D. thesis produced the now-famous Girardeau-Arnowitt theory of pair-excitations in many-boson systems that generalizes the previous Bogoliubov theory. Later on, his work at the University of Oregon on the symmetrization postulate in quantum mechanics was the first to expose that the restriction of quantum particles to bosons and fermions was weakened in less than three dimensions. As such this work is a forerunner of later works on fractional particle statistics that earned the 1998 Nobel Prize for Robert B. Laughlin, Daniel C. Tsui and Horst Ludwig Störmer. Marv also worked in a number of fields including the foundations of quantum mechanics, Bose-Einstein condensation in liquid helium and dilute atomic gases, variational methods for quantum statistical mechanics, light-matter interactions, and quantum control.

    It is interesting to note how Marv’s early curiosity-driven research came to impact his activities in Tucson, as it provides a case study for students as to how high-quality theoretical research can eventually foster real-world experiments. In a now-classic 1960 paper, Marv considered the quantum mechanics of a gas of impenetrable bosons moving in one dimension and showed that this could be solved exactly. This model is now universally referred to as a Tonks-Girardeau gas after the pioneers who elucidated the key underlying physics. Although it provided a rare example of an exactly soluble many-body problem, it remained largely a curiosity, as most real-world situations are three-dimensional. With the development of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute atomic gases in the 1990s, suddenly the possibility arose of realizing a Tonks-Girardeau gas by tightly constraining the atoms in two of the three dimensions. This breathed new life into Marv’s 1960 paper just as he was arriving at the College of Optical Sciences, and his initial predictions were finally confirmed by experiments 44 years later, bringing attention and acclaim to his work.

    With remarkable creativity and energy, during his time in Tucson Marv remained at the forefront of theoretical research on Tonks-Girardeau gases and their variants, including the fermionic and super-Tonks-Girardeau gases. He continued publishing an impressive array of high-impact papers in the field for more than a decade after arriving in Tucson.

    Marvin Girardeau is survived by his wife, Sue; daughters Ellen, Catherine and Laura; and four grandchildren. Outside of his interest in physics, he was an amateur astronomer, wine-maker, hiker, marathon runner, classical music lover, singer in local choirs and violin player. An obituary is now available online.

    He will be much missed by his friends at the College of Optical Sciences.