Edwin Salpeter

Edwin Salpeter   Image from Blogspot
Edwin Salpeter Image from Blogspot
Salpeter was an Austrian-born scientist. He lived from December 3,1924 to November 26, 2008. As a teenager he sought refuge in Australia with his family when the Nazis took power in Europe. In Australia Salpeter attended Sydney University and earned his bachelor and master degrees. Afterward he attended Birmingham University and earned his doctorate. After earning his doctorate he went on to Cornell University to continue his career as a nuclear theorist. It was when he began working with Hans Bethe at Cornell that he began to apply physics to stars- thus his astrophysics research began.

Edwin Salpeter was a renowned astrophysicist and professor. He is widely known for his work in the field of theoretical physics researching missile defense and black holes. He was also known to do work in the field of epidemiology and neurobiology alongside his wife, also a professor. Edwin Salpeter was the J.G. White Distinguished Professor of Physical Sciences Emeritus at Cornell University. Salpeter won many awards for his contributions to the scientific community. He was awarded the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, the J.R.Oppenheimer Memorial Prize, Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the Carnegie Institution Hall for Research in Astrophysics.


Salpeter contributed to his field with the Bethe-Salpeter equation. It is the equation that describes the bound state of a pair of elementary particles, which he shares credit for with Hans Bethe, his mentor. In the 1950s Edwin discovered how helium was fused into carbon after being given the experimental data he needed to make the discovery by Willy Fowler, the head of the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory. The process he discovered - helium-4 to beryllium-8 to carbon-12 - is called the Salpeter process (although Fred Hoyle filled in a few blanks) or the tri-alpha process. His findings finally explained to the puzzled physicists how some of the elements heavier than helium were formed in space.

Edwin's classified missile defense research took place in the 1960s. He did classified research for the Department of Defense. At first he was a consultant to a research lab related to this area called Avco-Evrett Research Lab. Mainly, Salpeter dealt with an area referred to as re-entry physics. Afterward he became more involved in the research and joined a division of the Institute of Defense Analysis and focused on antiballistic missile defense. The question he and the other researchers were attempting to answer was how do you tell the difference between a real missile and a decoy missile. Eventually Salpeter lost interest in the research due to the political issues involved and the fact that it was a lost cause anyway.

Later Years

Edwin and Mika Salpeter     Image from Cornell University News
Edwin and Mika Salpeter Image from Cornell University News

In his later years Salpeter became a researcher in the fields of epidemiology -the study of diseases- and neurobiology. He and his wife Mika researched the relationship between nerves and muscle fibers and the effects of muscle degenerative diseases. After her death he took to running her lab and did some collaborative studies.

One of the aforementioned collaborative studies was concerning the epidemiology of tuberculosis with their daughter Shelley, a physician, as the other researcher. Together they made a mathematical model of their findings. Also, Ed, Shelley, and her son Nicholas recently did a study on how common inhalers can cause death in otherwise healthy asthma sufferers. Their studies showed that those who inhale salmeterol- Severent or Advair commonly- or formoterol - commonly known as Foradil- were three and a half more times likely to suffer an asthma-related death and two and a half times more likely to be hospitalized for their asthma than those taking a placebo - an inactive drug/substance that is used as a control in a medical experiment which often makes the patient better despite its inactive state. Typically, those that are liable to be affected this way by salmeterol or formoterol are healthy young adults.