Bernard T. Feld
Bernard T. Feld, an emeritus professor of physics who helped usher in the atomic era as an assistant to Enrico Fermi and then became a leading voice for nuclear disarmament, died Feb. 19 at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., of lymphoma. He was 73.
A memorial service at MIT is being planned.
Feld was appointed an instructor in physics at MIT in 1946, but before taking up his duties spent six months in Washington, D.C., where he and other leading physicists lobbied against military control of nuclear research and weapons development. The lobbying resulted in the creation of the civilian Atomic Energy Agency. It was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to peaceful uses of atomic power and to ending the threat of nuclear war.
In a talk before a New Hampshire group in 1981, he said:
"Nuclear weapons aren't good for anything and it's up to all of us to get this message across, and reverse the current trends. To me, the use of a nuclear weapon is not only irrational, it's immoral.
"Having been involved in the original sin, I've spent the rest of my life trying to atone for it."
One of Feld's closest friends at MIT, Institute Professor Emeritus Herman Feshbach PhD '42, said, "We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Bernie for his life-long dedication to the nuclear disarmament movement."
Feld was promoted to assistant professor at MIT in 1948, associate professor in 1952, and professor in 1955. He served as director of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science from 1975 to 1980. He retired in 1990.
His research focused on experimental and theoretical research in high-energy physics, particularly interactions among the fundamental particles. Among his significant scientific efforts was his contribution to the development of the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, jointly owned and operated by MIT and Harvard University.
Born in Brooklyn, Feld entered the City College of New York when he was 15 and received a bachelor of science degree in 1939. After World War II, he returned to Columbia University to receive his PhD in 1945.
Feld was a graduate student and teaching assistant to physicists Fermi and Isador I. Rabi at Columbia University when he was given the opportunity to assist Fermi and physicist Leo Szilard in their efforts to produce a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
In 1941 he suspended his graduate studies to join Fermi and Szilard at the University of Chicago, where the first controlled nuclear chain reaction was achieved in the Metallurgical Laboratory on Dec. 2, 1942.
In 1943, Feld left for Chicago for Oak Ridge, Tennessee to participate in the effort, through the Manhattan Project, to develop the atomic bomb. From Oak Ridge, he went to the Los Alamos Laboratory at the University of California, where he contributed to the development of the experimental plutonium bomb later detonated in the desert at Alamagordo, N.M.
Feld published extensively in professional journals and wrote the books Neutron Physics (1954) and Models of Elementary Physics (1969), as well as an extensive review article, "Neutron Physics." He also was a founding and associate editor for many years of Annals of Physics, an MIT-based journal presenting original work in all areas of basic physics research.
He was a prolific writer of essays, letters to newspapers, and magazine articles, criticizing governments for not doing more to reduce nuclear stockpiles. He was especially proud, according to colleagues, to be on President Richard Nixon's "enemies list."He also assailed the arms buildup under President Ronald Reagan and was particularly critical of the Strategic Defense Initiative project to build an anti-ballistic missile shield.
Feld was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
He leaves his wife, Ellen Banks Feld of Brooklyn; two daughters from a previous marriage, Ellen Feld of Philadephia and Elizabeth Feld of Kauai, Hawaii; a grandson, John Bradmiller-Feld of Philadelphia; and three brothers, Maury of Cambridge, Marvin of Tuscon, Ariz., and Myron of Los Angeles.