Theodore Holstein

University of California, Los Angeles

September 18, 1915 - May 8, 1985


Election Year: 1981
Scientific Discipline: Applied Physical Sciences
Membership Type: Member

Theodore Holstein was an internationally renowned theoretician in the fields of atomic and solid-state physics.  In atomic physics, he established the first quantitatively correct account of the trapping of resonance radiation, and his work is still used in laser physics, astrophysics, and photochemistry.  This research also improved the understanding of ionic mobilities and electron energy distributions.  Holstein also made contributions in solid-state physics.  In 1940, Holstein (along with his colleague, Primakoff) created the first formulation of the modern theory for spin waves.  He then established a basis of understanding for electron-phonon interactions involved in inelastic processes within metallic reflectance.  Then in 1959, he determined a quantitative microscopic justification for Pippard’s phenomenological theory of “collision drag.”  He was the first scientist to propose the concept of the “small polaron,” and the paper he published on the subject became the most quoted paper in solid-state physics research (it was applicable to chemical kinetics as well).  He conducted the most complete and insightful study of electron-phonon interactions in transport, or in motion.  Lastly, he discovered an error in the computation of the traditional Forster-Dexter theory, and he determined new mechanisms of energy transfer within disordered systems to account for the faulty theory.

Holstein attended New York University, where he earned his B.S. degree in 1935 and his Ph.D. in 1940.  In 1941, he began research at the Research Laboratories of Westinghouse Electric Corporation.  He quickly rose through the ranks of the company to become a research physicist (1942), an advanced physicist (1949), and finally a consulting physicist (1952-1960).  Holstein decided to leave the lab in 1960, and he became a physics professor at the University of Pittsburgh for five years.  In 1965, he left to teach physics at the University of California in Los Angeles. 

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