Campus & Community

Karl Strauch, High Energy Physicist, Dies at 77

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Karl Strauch, a leading high energy physicist, and professor emeritus of physics at Harvard University, died at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston on January 3, 2000. He was 77 years old and lived in Lexington, Mass.

The immediate cause of death was pneumonia. His death also ended a 15-year struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Strauch was an experimental particle physicist who served as chairman of the Physics Department from 1978-1982. His research focused on the fundamental structure of matter. He worked with energy- smashing subatomic particles in giant accelerators to discover the basic building blocks of the universe. In the early ’70s, while director of the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, he led experiments that produced tantalizing evidence for the existence of quarks, a new category of matter at the time. He also participated in major colliding beam experiments at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland; the Stanford Linear Accelerator at Stanford University in California; and DESY laboratory in Hamburg, Germany.

Strauch was born on Oct. 4, 1922, in Giessen, Germany. His mother was Carola Boch, the daughter of Alfred Boch, a well-known German writer. His father, Lutheran minister Georg Strauch, died of an infection only weeks after Karl was born. His mother later married Hans Lachmann-Mosse, the publisher of the Berliner Tagenblatt – a prominent liberal daily newspaper that advocated democratic principles in the pre-Nazi German Republic. The family was exiled from Germany in the mid-1930s and took residence in Paris where Karl earned his baccalaureate. In 1939 the family immigrated to Lafayette, Calif.

Following the award of an A.B. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1943, and the election to Phi Beta Kappa, Strauch served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946. He then earned a Ph.D. in physics from Berkeley in 1950.

The same year, he joined Harvard’s faculty as a junior fellow and was subsequently promoted to assistant professor of physics in 1953, associate professor of physics in 1957, professor of physics in 1962, and George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Physics in 1975. Strauch was director of the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, a joint Harvard-MIT facility, from 1967 to 1974. He was a member of the American Physical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Sigma Xi. He was also a fellow of Dunster House.

He authored more than 145 scientific papers published in professional journals. He served on various national and international committees and commissions including the Commission on Particles and Fields of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. He was a highly influential member of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Joint Coordinating Committee on Fundamental Properties of Matter, which was the chief conduit between the American and Soviet scientific communities during the height of the Cold War.

Strauch chaired two committees that significantly impacted the policies and culture of Harvard. In 1975 the Strauch Committee recommended the merger of Harvard and Radcliffe’s admissions offices and the institution of an admissions policy of equal access for women. This recommendation was approved and instituted beginning with the Class of 1980. He also chaired the committee effort to build and establish the Science Center, the first multidisciplinary sciences building in the College.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Maria Strauch, an artist; his son Roger Strauch, 43, a venture capitalist, of Piedmont, Calif.; his son Hans Strauch, 42, an architect, of Belmont, Mass.; and five grandchildren.