David Pines: Physics

David Pines, a physics instructor at Penn 1950-1952 and a leader in condensed matter physics whose work paved the way for several Nobel prizes, died on May 3 from pancreatic cancer at his home in Urbana, Illinois. He was 93.

Dr. Pines received his undergraduate degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1944 and his doctorate from Princeton in 1950. In addition to teaching at Penn, he also taught at Princeton; he spent most of his career at the University of Illinois. He also worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the University of California, Davis, and he helped found the Santa Fe Institute.

He is best known for his contributions to understanding the phenomena that emerge from the complex interactions of the elementary constituents of matter. With his thesis adviser, theoretical physicist David J. Bohm, Dr. Pines developed a technique known as random phase approximation (RPA) to describe the behavior of electrons in a dense gas, which one of his colleagues noted “has impacted almost every field of physics.” His work also set the stage for the Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer (BCS) theory of superconductivity that earned the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physics (Almanac October 31, 1972). He studied electron-election interactions and superfluidity in neutron stars. His research contributions were recognized by two Guggenheim Fellowships; the Feenberg Medal; the Friemann, Dirac, and Drucker Prizes; and by his election to the National Academy of Sciences, American Philosophical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences, and Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Pines is survived by a daughter, Catherine Pines; a son, Jonathan; a sister, Judith Fried; and three grandchildren.