Memoir

Roger Dashen

University of California, San Diego

May 5, 1938 - May 24, 1995


Election Year: 1984
Scientific Discipline: Physics
Membership Type: Member

Roger Dashen was a theoretical physicist who helped advance our modern understanding of how the phenomena of particle physics emerge from the mathematics of quantum field theory. His career spanned a remarkable period in the evolution of theoretical physics. At the beginning, in 1964, the foundations of particle theory were uncertain and quantum field theory was regarded by many as a useless anachronism. At the end, in 1995, the central challenge had been reduced to solving a very specific problem in quantum field theory. Dashen made essential contributions at every step of this evolution to what is now called the Standard Model of particle physics. Moreover, he had a talent for mentoring young theoretical physicists and also was active in applied physics, helping to develop several fields of technology.

Born in Grand Junction, Colorado, and having lived in various other parts of the West during his childhood (graduating from high school in Billings, Montana), Dashen went East to college at Harvard University, where he received his A.B. degree summa cum laude in 1960. Entering the California Institute of Technology in 1961 for graduate study in theoretical physics, he earned his Ph.D. in 1964 and became a full professor at Caltech only two years later. The East then called again, and he accepted a professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, a position he would hold for two decades. In 1986 Dashen left the Institute to become a faculty member at the University of California, San Diego. He served for five years as chairman of the UCSD Department of Physics, presiding over a period of notable growth in its quality and impact.

Dashen’s advice on scientific matters was widely sought and generously given. He was a high-level advisor to the U.S. Navy on advanced technology—attracted in particular to the problems of detecting (and hiding from detection) submarines as they moved under the water, a scientific endeavor that united hydrodynamics, sound propagation, and physical oceanography—and he was especially proud of his active role in the establishment of the National Science Foundation’s Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Dashen was a rare individual, combining intellectual vision and breadth with personal warmth and accessibility. He was unpretentious, completely approachable, and ready to talk to anybody at any time about any scientific question.

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