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Felix H. Boehm, 1924–2021

Felix H. Boehm, a pioneering nuclear physicist, passed away on May 25 at the age of 96.

Boehm, the William L. Valentine Professor of Physics, Emeritus, was born on June 9, 1924 in Basel, Switzerland. He earned a diplom (an academic degree) from the Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich) in 1948, and a PhD in physics from the same institute in 1951.

As a teenager, Boehm met and began to assist Walter Rudolph Hess, who would later earn a Nobel Prize in 1949 for mapping the areas of the brain that control internal organs. Boehm continued working under Hess as a university student, conducting research on brain waves.

Boehm first came to the US in 1952 to work at Columbia University, studying nuclear physics under Chien-Shiung Wu. Wu would go on to upend the known laws of physics in 1957 by demonstrating that in contrast to other physical forces, weak interactions among decaying particles are not always symmetrical.

Boehm joined Caltech as a research fellow in July of 1953, becoming part of the faculty as an assistant professor in 1958 and earning his tenure in 1961. The research he conducted in the 1950s and 1960s pertained to nuclear structure and particle behavior, especially the parity violation that Wu had demonstrated. He was among the first to use nuclear physics techniques to do fundamental research on weak interactions and the nature of neutrinos. He was made Valentine Professor in 1985 and retired in 1995.

He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983; and in 1995 Boehm received the Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics for "his measurements of positron polarization in beta decay and their impact on the development of the V-A theory of weak interactions, his pioneering studies providing convincing evidence for parity violation in nuclear transitions, and his frontier defining searches for violations of time-reversal invariance in nuclei and for neutrino oscillations."

Boehm is survived by his wife, Ruth Sommerhalder, and their two sons, Marcus and Claude.

A full memorial story will be posted at a later date.

Written by Robert Perkins

Robert Perkins
(626) 395-1862