September 19, 2005

Profs, C.U. Presidents Recognize Hans Bethe

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Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III announced yesterday that the third residence hall of the West Campus Residential Initiative will be named the Hans Bethe House. The building’s name was revealed at a ceremony honoring the Cornell professor.

Faculty, staff, students, and many other guests filled Statler Auditorium yesterday afternoon in memory of Prof. Hans A. Bethe, physics, emeritus, who passed away last March at the age of 98. He was most vividly remembered for his wealth of knowledge and plethora of contributions to the field of physics, including his work studying energy production in stars for which he won a Nobel Prize in 1967.

“There are no other professors whose achievements … have approached those of Hans Bethe,” Rawlings said. “It’s only fitting that students, faculty, and staff will be able to enter and learn about Hans Bethe in his house.” According to Rawlings, Bethe was someone who “controlled the entire field of physics in his head.”

The West Campus Housing Committee voted unanimously in its decision to dedicate the dormitory to Bethe. There will be an official reception for the naming next semester.

“Professor Bethe was the most distinguished professor Cornell has ever had,” Rawlings said. “Our plan on West Campus is to honor great faculty. No one is greater than Hans Bethe – no one.”

Bethe came to Cornell in 1935 and was promoted to a full professor in the summer of 1937. He remained at Cornell for the rest of his working career, taking a few sabbaticals in order to work on the Manhattan Project during World War II, where he was the head of the theoretical physics department.

From working in Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, Bethe brought back a few critical editions to the Cornell Physics department. Among these were Richard Feynman, Robert Wilson, and Dale Corson, who later served as Cornell’s eighth president during the after math of the Straight Takeover.

Corson, who spoke at the service yesterday, said that during the events of the takeover, Bethe was his, “voice of reason, clarity, responsibility, and conscience.”

Although Bethe was fundamental in developing the atomic bomb, he also advocated for arms control. Kurt Gottfried, professor emeritus who also helped Bethe in his quest for arms control said of Bethe, “he had an intellectual output that would be considered, on a scale, impossible if he had no actually existed.”

After Gottfried spoke, a video was screened over viewing the life and achievements of Bethe. In the video, Bethe expressed a deep love for Ithaca, saying, “I felt at home almost immediately … they received me as if I was one of their own.”

Even though Bethe had been offered many other positions at top universities such as Columbia and Princeton, he decided to stay in Ithaca.

“It was perfectly clear to me that this was where I wanted to live, that this was my home – that it was already my home,” Bethe said in the video.

The general consensus around the room was that Hans Bethe had led an exemplary life, defying everyone’s expectation of what could be accomplished in the field of physics.

In his remarks, Rawlings noted that Hans Bethe “sustained humanity,” that he, “exemplified everything noble in a great scientist and university.” In most speeches, it was noted how extraordinary it was that someone could sustain such integrity and responsibility for 70 years working in the same discipline. Of his own occupation, Bethe in the video spoke with much pride and honor.

“This has been my life in physics – I have found it most satisfactory and I recommend all the young people to do likewise.”

Archived article by Emily Gordon
Sun Staff Writer