CEDAR FALLS | A Cedar Falls native, physicist and professor at Brown University passed away last month, leaving behind a legacy in understanding the mass in the universe.
According to the Brown Daily Herald, Gerald Guralnik, 77, collapsed on stage during a lecture on April 26 and died of a heart attack.
Cengiz Pehlevan, a graduate student of Guralnik’s, described his death as shocking and devastating. But he told the Herald that he took comfort in the fact that Guralnik died doing what he loved: explaining science.
"There is no good death, but that was, I think, a noble death,” Pehlevan said.
Guralnik, who grew up on Rainbow Drive in Cedar Falls, was described as the "second Einstein” in a 1958 Courier article about the 21-year-old deciding between two fellowships at Harvard and MIT. He also received an Albert Sloan Fellowship for science research in 1968.
Guralnik also got a doctorate in philosophy at Harvard.
A feature on the Brown University website written after his passing described Guralnik’s discoveries in quantum field theories and theoretical particle physics.
In 1964, Guralnik and colleagues published what would become a landmark paper in particle physics. It explained why the elementary particles that make up matter have mass, while photons, or particles of light, are massless. The paper came just months after two other papers — one by Peter Higgs and another by Francois Englert and Robert Brout — described a similar mechanism.
The physical manifestation of that mechanism, which would become known as the Higgs boson, was discovered by scientists in 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider, a particle collider in Switzerland. The boson was considered to be the final missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics.
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"It is a wonderful feeling of great satisfaction and amazement,” Guralnik had said shortly after the discovery that proved his theory. "We started out to solve an interesting and challenging abstract problem. We were surprised by the answer that turned up.”
Though Guralnik’s 1964 paper would become vastly influential, it took years for his ideas to become mainstream.
Guralnik had described in an essay when he met Werner Heisenberg, a 1932 Nobel Prize winner in physics, who told him his "ideas were junk.”
Later, other scientists used his findings during a project that later won them Nobel Prizes.
According to the New York Times, he is survived by a son, Zachary; his wife, the former Susan Ellovich, whom he married in 1963; a sister, Judith Ingis; and two grandchildren.
His parents were the late David and Belle Guralnik. David Guralnik had an accounting firm.
Clarification (5/12): This article contained comments from a Brown graduate student, Cengiz Pehlevan, which were obtained by the Brown campus newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, as the Courier article indicated. The editor of the Brown paper felt that attribution was insufficent. We are publishing this clarification to make up for any shortcoming in that attribution.