James Bardeen, who helped elucidate the properties and behavior of black holes, paving the way for what has been called the golden age of black hole astrophysics, died on June 20 in Seattle. He was 83 years old.
His son William said the cause was cancer. Dr. Bardeen, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Washington, was living in a nursing home in Seattle.
Dr. Bardeen was a descendant of a famous family of physicists. His father is John Twice won the Nobel Prize in Physics, for the invention of the transistor and the theory of superconductivity; his brother, Williaman expert in quantum theory at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.
Dr. Bardeen was an expert in solving equations of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. This theory attributes what we call gravity to the curvature of spacetime with matter and energy. The most mysterious and disturbing result was the possibility of black holes, places so dense that they became endless one-way exit ramps from the universe, swallowing even light and time.
Dr. Bardeen will find the work of his life investigating those mysteries, as well as related mysteries about the evolution of the universe.
said Michael Turner, a cosmologist and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, who described Dr. Bardeen as a “gentle giant.”
James Maxwell Bardeen was born in Minneapolis on May 9, 1939. His mother, Jane Maxwell Bardeen, was a zoologist and high school teacher. After his father’s business, the family moved to Washington, D.C.; To the Summit, NJ; Then to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where you graduate from University of Illinois High School Laboratory.
He attended Harvard University and graduated with a degree in physics in 1960, despite his father’s advice that biology was the wave of the future. “Everyone knows who my father is,” he said in an oral history interview recorded by the Federal University of Paraguay in 2020, adding that he did not feel the need to compete with him. “It was impossible anyway,” he said.
Work under the supervision of a physicist Richard Feynman And an astrophysicist William Fowler (who would both become Nobel Prize laureates), Dr. Bardeen received his Ph.D. He received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1965. His thesis was on the structure of supermassive stars millions of times the mass of the Sun. Astronomers are beginning to suspect that they are the source of the massive energies of quasars detected in the cores of distant galaxies.
After holding postdoctoral positions at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, he joined the Department of Astronomy at the University of Washington in 1967. An enthusiastic hiker and mountaineer, he was drawn to the school by its easy access to the outdoors.
By then, what a Nobel Prize winner Cape Thorne, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, points out that the golden age of black hole research was in full swing, and Dr. Bardeen was swept up in international meetings. At one, in Paris in 1967, he met Nancy Thomas, a Connecticut high school teacher who was trying to improve her French. They married in 1968.
In addition to his son William, a senior vice president and chief strategy officer of The New York Times Company, and his brother William, Dr. Bardeen’s wife survives him, along with another son, David, and two grandchildren. Sister Elizabeth Gretke passed away in 2000.
Dr. Bardeen was a member of the National Academy of Sciences as well as his brother and father.
Although he was fast at math, Dr. Bardeen didn’t write faster than he spoke. William Price, a former student of Dr. Thorne now at the University of Texas, remembers being sent to Seattle to finish a paper Dr. Bardeen was supposed to write. Nothing is written. Dr. Bardeen’s wife then ordered the two to sit at opposite ends of the sofa with a sheet. Dr. Bardeen would write a sentence and pass the paper on to Dr. Press, who would either reject it or approve it and then put the pillow back. Dr. Bryce said that each sentence took a few minutes. It took them three days, but the paper was written.
One of the historical moments in those years was the month-long “Summer School” in Les Hoechs, France, in 1972 which included all the eminent black hole scientists. Dr. Bardeen was one of six invited speakers. It was during that meeting, Stephen Hawking from the University of Cambridge and Brandon Carternow from the Paris Observatory, wrote a landmark paper called “The Four Laws of Black Hole Mechanics,” which became a springboard for future work, including Dr. Hawking’s surprising calculation that black holes can leak and eventually explode.
In another famous account that same year, Dr. Bardeen deduced the shape and size of a black hole’s “shadow” as seen against a field of distant stars – a circular sliver of light surrounding dark space.
Dr. Thorne said the shape was made famous by the Event Horizon Telescope observations of black holes in the galaxy M87 and at the center of the Milky Way, and by visualizations in the movie “Interstellar.”
Cosmology was among Dr. Bardeen’s other interests. In a 1982 paper, he, Dr. Turner and Paul Steinhardt of Princeton described how submicroscopic fluctuations in matter and energy density in the early universe would grow and give rise to the pattern of galaxies we see in the sky today.
Dr. Turner said, “Jim was glad we used his formalities, and he was sure we got it right.”
Dr. Bardeen transferred to Yale University in 1972. After four years, dissatisfied with the academic bureaucracy in the East and longing for the outdoors again, he returned to the University of Washington. Retired in 2006.
But it did not stop working. Dr. Thorne recounted a recent telephone conversation in which they recalled the hiking and camping trips they used to take with their families. In the same conversation, Dr. Bardeen described the last thoughts he had about what happens when a black hole evaporates, noting that it might turn into a white hole.
“This was one aspect of Jim in a nutshell, thinking deeply about physics in new creative ways until the end of his life,” Dr. Thorne wrote in an email.
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”