Biographical information taken from NAS biographical memoirs
March 29, 1915-January 19, 1971 BY F. BLOCH LEONARD SCHIFF was born in Fall Aver, Massachusetts. His father, Edward, descended from a Lithuanian fam- ily of rabbinical scholars, had come to the United States as a young boy. An early ancestor was an apothecary who took the name "Schiff," the old German word for a vessel used in his tracle. His mother Mathilda (nee Brodsky), also of Lithuanian descent, was born in Brooklyn. She was an accomplished pianist and composer; her two sons and three daughters all began to receive musical education when they were still very young. She began to teach Leonard to play the piano when he was four years old, but two years later he took up the clarinet, an instrument that he loved anti came to master remarkably well. Leonard's school years were spent in Brooklyn after his family had moved there. This was a time of financial difficul- ties for Edward Schiff, who helped to alleviate them by free- lance writing. Leonard was a precocious child; therefore he was quickly advanced in school in order to remain sufficiently occupied with his classwork. Although by no means one- siclecI, his special interest and talent in mathematics soon became evident; he later belongecl to a small group of volun- teers who received additional instruction from their mathe- matics teacher after school hours. The knowlecige thus acquired brought Leonarc! so far that he was well versect in calculus when he graduated from lames Madison High School in June ~ 929. Another family move brought Leonarc] to Columbus, where he entered Ohio State University at the age of four- teen. It was his desire to come closer to reality than he felt he could reach through pure mathematics that brought Leo- narcl Schiff to the study of physics. The subject was taught at the School of Engineering, and he received the bachelor's degree (B.E., physics) in 1933. His first piece of research was clone in the course of the next two years; it arose from close contact with L. H. Thomas, an outstanding member of the faculty and originator of the well-known Thomas factor in atomic physics. Leonard's investigation concerned the quan- tum theory of metallic reflection ancl analyzed the effect of surface properties. Published with Thomas as coauthor, it already shows the influence of Schiffs method, seen in much of his later work, of starting with funciamentals and proceecI- ing systematically from there to the derivation of new results. He once told his younger brother Dan, also a physicist: "Phys- ics is really simple you only have to know the few basic facts whereupon everything else just follows." After receiving the degree of master of science, Leonarc! left Columbus in 1935 to continue his graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although much younger than his classmates, he surpassed most of them in training and knowledge. He and some fellow students, in- cluding Marvin Chodorow, who became a lifelong friend, soon formed a group of close companions who gathered for hikes or similar occasions to talk about physics and other matters of shared interest. Clearly a hard worker, Leonard appeared self-assured while totally free of arrogance; and he was also blessed with a fine sense of humor. From the beginning, Schiff enrollee! in the advanced courses offered at MIT, and it did not take long before he was also engaged in research. A course on statistical problems that he took from Robley D. Evans lecI to their collaboration on the statistics of counters and to a joint publication in 1 936. With Philip M. Morse ancl I. D. Fisk as coauthors, an earlier publication of the same year concerned an altogether differ- ent subject, the collision of protons and neutrons. It is signif- icant because it marks the beginning of SchifiPs association with Phil Morse, to whom he felt drawn by personality as well as by their shared inclination toward mathematical physics, meant in the more literal sense than in the old usage for the entire field of theoretical physics. An emphasis on mathemat- ics can be noticed here in that the potential is chosen to allow a rigorous analytical solution of the Schrodinger equation. The work is also significant because it represents the start of Leonarcl's occupation with problems of collision, a phenome- non which he later investigated in its many different aspects so that it runs as a strong thread through his life's work. In immediate continuation, he included the cleuteron as colli- sion partner and treated the related capture and binding process of neutrons, which yielded four more papers in 1937 and, by further extension, led in Tune of that year to his Ph.D. thesis unpiler the supervision of Morse, entitled "Theory of the Collision of Light Elements." He worked during the rest of the summer as a research physicist for the General Electric Company, whereupon a fellowship from the National Research Council for 1937 and 1938 enabled him to join the group of young theorists at the University of California in Berkeley and the California In- stitute of Technology in Pasadena. It was the presence of J. R. Oppenheimer, then a joint professor at these institu- tions, that had brought them together and greatly influenced their activities. Oppenheimer's quick grasp in the course of a iscussion was most impressive, but the ensuing comments were often quite mystifying. One can see how Leonard's gen- erally positive attitude enabled him to reconcile this fact with his deep desire for clarity by quoting from a memorial talk that he gave in Berkeley after the (leash of Oppenheimer: "I think he enjoyed talking in ricIdIes; certainly there was an enigmatic quality to the choice of his words. Students and colleagues spent much time wondering about just what he hac] meant and often ended up with a much creeper un- clerstanding of the subject than they would have attained otherwise." An appointment as a research assistant after the expira- tion of Schiff~s fellowship extended this first period in Cali- fornia by two more years. The intimate contact with other highly gifted members in the group, among them W. E. Lamb and R. Serber, contributed no less than Oppenheimer's stimulating influence to his productivity during that time. The collaboration with Lamb lecl to their joint paper on the electromagnetic properties of nuclei arising from the meson exchange between their constituents. This started his interest in the role of mesons, which he continued to pursue through a series of investigations in the 1950's. The scope of his activ- ities was further enIarge(l, partly through work with H. Snycler and others, to encompass a variety of subjects as different as radiative capture of electrons, liquid helium, and the quadratic Zeeman effect, thus demonstrating anew Schiffs extraordinary versatility. Those three years, spent mostly in Berkeley, brought him enrichments not only through his scientific work but also through new friendships, particularly with Bob and Char- lotte Serber, Date and Nelle Carson, Art Kipp, and Bill Stein- hoff. He greatly enjoyocl the evenings of chamber music in the home of Martin Kamen where he sometimes joined the fine players with his clarinet. Last and most important, it was in Berkeley that he met Frances Ballard, then a student of history, and found in her the ideal companion of his future life. They married in 1941 after Leonard's move to Philadel- phia; complementing each other in many ways, they had in the course of time a daughter, Ellen, and a son, Lee. The academic career of Leonard Schiff began in 1940 with an appointment as instructor at the University of Penn- sylvania, followed at intervals of two years by promotion to assistant and associate professor. His exceptional gift for teaching immediately became evident; he impressed the stu- dents so much by his perfect clarity and his pedagogic skill that they regarded him as the best teacher at the University. Leonard was not the man, however, to earn such a reputation at the expense of his research. Continuing his interest in the properties of liquid helium, brought from Berkeley, he was able in his first year as instructor to publish several papers on the subject, aimed particularly at a better understanding of the phase transition to the superfluid state. He still found time to deal in two more papers with the performance of the electron microscope before his publications were brought nearly to a standstill until the end of the war. Like that of most American physicists, Schiffs research during this interval became directed towards the war effort and the announcement of results was restricted by security regulations. In contrast to the specialization common at this time, he sometimes served simultaneously on many different projects, several of them arranged through Gaylord Harn- well, the chairman of the Physics Department at PennsyI- vania. The first was initiated upon a request to develop a device for measuring the purity of helium in blimps. Leonard provided the analysis of the data, hut he also assisted his coworker Robert Hofstadter, who had entered the University six months before him, in ably performing some of the glass- blowing required for the apparatus. Neither of them could anticipate that they were later to be colleagues at Stanford, where the friendship, cemented at that time, would lead to a most fruitful interplay of their common concern about elec- tron scattering at high energies. Schiff later participated in a number of projects that dealt with various aspects of submarine warfare. In close personal contact with the successive directors F. Seitz, A. W. Lawson, W. E. Stephens, and P. H. Miller he was associated with a group formed to study the operation of the crystal detectors used in radar systems. Research in this group led Walter Meyerhof, his former student and a future colleague at Stan- ford, to the discovery of surface states and to a Ph.D. thesis on the subject. It is most remarkable that all the activities described above did not prevent Leonard from carrying on some teaching and from serving in Harnwell's absence as acting chairman of the Physics Department from the summer of ~ 942 to April ~ 945. At that time he was granted a leave of absence to join the atomic bomb laboratory at Los Alamos, at Oppenheimer's request, and he was among those who witnessed in the Trin- ity Test at Alamogordo the first explosion of an atom bomb. Deeply impressed by this event and the subsequent destruc- tion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he wrote a letter to the Forum of the Review of Scientific Instruments entitled "Atomic Energy and Physicists" shortly before leaving Los Alamos in January 1946. It warns with remarkable foresight that other nations would be able to make atomic bombs and that they could be made much more powerful than those used against Japan. The physicists were asked to use their special position not only to support international control of nuclear weapons, but also to make the public aware of the great benefits that atomic energy could bestow upon mankind. Alter his return to Philadelphia, he again carried out the normal teaching and research activities during his remaining year-and-a-half at the University of Pennsylvania. He further used the partial removal of government restrictions to promptly publish, with his collaborators, some of the results previously reported only in classified documents. Leonard Schiff began the last and longest period in his academic life when he joined the Physics Department of Stan- ford University in the fall of 1947. Here, as elsewhere in the Uniter! States, the ways of physics had been greatly in- fluenced by clevelopments during the war, both in opening new avenues of research and through the generous support received from government agencies. At Stanford the prin- cipal new areas resulted from the vast improvements of radio anti microwave techniques in the development of radar, now channelle(1 into peace-time applications, the former used for the study of nuclear magnetism, the latter for the accelera- tion of electrons. Both developments were rooted in work done at Stanford before the war in a small department and with very modest means; now they were seen to have a much wider scope that pointed towards an extended period of promising future research. While a great increase in staff clid not seem to be indi- catecl, it was recognized that the new era called for additional qualified members of the department. Edward Ginzton and his wife Artemas, a cousin of Frances Schiff, had known Leonard intimately for a long time. Upon Ginzton's sugges- tion, it was quickly agreed, both for reasons of personality and in view of Schiff~s excellent record, that a position shouicI be offered to him; it boded well for his future in the depart- ment that he accepted the offer of an associate professorship without much hesitation. To do justice to his great influence during nearly a quarter of a century at Stanford, the role of Schiff has to be consiclered in several different, yet not un- connecte~l, aspects. To begin with his part in affairs of the university, it was with the promotion to a full professorship, just a year after his arrival, that he succeecled Paul Kirkpatrick as executive heat! of the Physics Department. The following eighteen years, cluring which he remained in this position, were to give ample proof that a more fortunate choice could hardily have been made. Through strict adherence to democratic princi- ples, Leonard gained the complete confidence of his col- leagues and became their ideal spokesman in dealing with the administration of the University. The strengthening of the department by a number of excellent appointments and the move from inadequate quarters to a large new building with connected structures for administrative offices and auditoria were but two of the significant changes during the period of his chairmanship. Another major development re- sulted from the overgrowing scope and size of the clepart- ment's research activities. While gratifying in many respects, the expected consiclerable expansion of certain activities caused problems since it called for special arrangements to allow their independent operation. This gave rise to the installation of applied physics as a separate department of the University and to the creation of the Stanford Linear Accel- erator Center as a national laboratory; both events were accompanied by the transfer of some members of the depart- ment who became the core of a greatly enlarged staff. There followed a prolonged exchange of opinions about the rela- tion of these new entities to the physics department with the strong involvement of the chairman until the issues had been sufficiently cIarifiecl and agreements were reached that worked to the greatest mutual benefit. When Schiff decided in 1966 to give up the position as head of the department, he coup look back with satisfaction to the achievements reached over his many years of unselfish devotion to the task that had been entrusted to him. Far from ending his services to the University, however, he continued for another three years as chairman of the Advisory Board, the highest position for the faculty at Stanford, and was elected as the first chairman of the newly formed senate during the University's turbulent year of 1968. In these as well as in a number of other functions, he never hesitated to give freely of his time and greatly contributed by his wisdom and judgment to the general welfare of the institution. Coming now to his particular concern with education, Schiff realized the great importance of introductory courses for the development of a student and the experience re- quirecl for their being taught well. He therefore saw to it that these classes were assigned to senior members of the faculty, setting a high standard by his own participation. The quality of his teaching came not only from an innate pedagogic abil- ity but also from his having given a great deal of thought to the aims to be realized. He clevoted much of an article about science in general education to clarifying the difference be- tween pure science and technology and made a strong case for his conviction that the cultural rather than the utilitarian aspect of science should be the basis of scientific education. In a talk entitled "The Education of a Scientist," he warned against premature specialization and concentration on tech- niquesÑas aclvocated in the days of the Sputnik- arguing that a student of science will be best prepared for his future if he first acquires a broad knowledge. The talk ended with the following remark about the prospects of a scientist: "If he happens to become a university professor, perhaps his great- est ambition will be to develop a research student who will some day make a greater contribution to science than was within his own power" a touching revelation of Schiffs per- sonal feelings. In 1966, he receiver! the OerstecI Mecial of the American Association of Physics Teachers for his "notable contribution to the teaching of physics" and Stanforcl's an- nual Dinkelspie! Award "for outstanding service to un(ler- graduate education." Schiffs widest influence as a teacher and scholar, how- ever, has been achieved through his book, Quantum Mechan- ics. Although it cleats with the very basis of modern physics, discovered twenty-five years earlier, there existec! nothing comparable to this text before the first edition in 1949, anal nothing like this volume was to appear for many years to come. Translated into many languages, among them Russian and Japanese, it is found today on most scientific bookshelves all over the world and has been instrumental in bringing up a whole generation of physicists. The second edition ap- peared in 1955 and the third in 196S, enriched each time to keep up with recent developments. It is research, however, that was always of primary im- portance to Leonarct, whose well-organizecI system of work- ing enablecl him to remain highly productive in the pursuit of his investigations without neglecting other activities. The variety of topics he chose again reflects a wicle range of inter- ests, but two major groups stancl out: the recurrent occupa- tion with the theory of collisions and with general relativity. The collision and scattering of particles was mentioned before to be of particular significance in the work of Schiff. His attention to the subject received a fresh stimulus through the development of the linear electron accelerator at Stan- ford. As early as 1949 he discussed in an extended report the type of information that could be obtained with the new accelerators, and he emphasized the utility of electron scat- tering as a probe of nuclear and nucleon structure. The im- portant results of the experiments carried out by Hofstadter and his collaborators were to amply fulfill his expectations. In close contact with the progress of their work during the fol- lowing years, he significantly contributed to the analysis of the (lata and investigated relatecl problems concerning the treatment of scattering processes. He reviewed the research activities in high energy physics that bear on nuclear strucure reasoned that the ever increasing bulk of the Physical Review called for one or more new journals and delineated the scope of this particular one "to include any paper that applies established methods of mathematics or theoretical physics to a problem of physical interest, where the novelty lies in the mathematical procedure rather than in the physical un- derstanding which is attained." His proposal initiated the actions that led to the start of the journal of Mathematical Physics in 1960. Because of his prominent part in the preced- ing deliberations, he was asked to become the chairman of the editorial board; he declined but served as associate editor during the first two years of the Journal. His services were further sought, and Schiff freely con- sented for extended periods to join the editorial staffs of the Physical Review, the Reviews of Modern Physics, and several other journals. He was a fellow or officer in many learned societies, inclucling the American Academy of Arts and Sci- ences and the National Acaclemy of Sciences, where he was chairman of the Physics Section at the time of his death. The extraordinary variety of Leonard's professional pur- suits, indicated in the preceding account, and his careful attention to each of them might invoke the image of a man under constant severe pressure. Yet such was the wealth of his personality that he never lost his quiet and considerate way with others, nor was he forced to sacrifice the enjoyment of his family, the company of his friends, or his love of music and nature to devote himself to his equally beloved science. There was much that Leonard Schiff still had to give and wanted to give when a heart failure brought his life to a sudden encl. THE AUTHOR iS greatly indebted to Marvin Chodorow, Robert Hofstadter, Walter Meyerhof, Robert Wagoner, Dirk Walecka, Frank Yang, and particularly Frances Schiff for much valuable information provided to him in the writing of this biography.