Robert Finkelstein

...Our most senior and beloved colleague, Prof. Robert "Bob" Finkelstein passed away on August 27, 2020. He was 104. Having arrived at UCLA in 1948, Bob was a familiar face in the department. We always enjoyed speaking to him about his life and work and appreciated his kind demeanor.

During WW2, he served as a scientific liaison to Albert Einstein and during his career worked with George Gamow, Robert Oppenheimer, and Julian Schwinger.

Bob did original work on a broad range of topics in particle physics. Even in recent years he published his work on the promises of knot theory for particle physics. He had a record of nearly eighty years of scientific publications, starting in 1940; and he continued to write papers into this year.

We are grateful to Bob not only for his career and friendship, but also for creating numerous graduate fellowships. Many of our theory graduate students have been sponsored by the Finkelstein Fellowship, which was created and augmented over the years by Bob and his wife Norma.

In 2016 UCLA Physics & Astronomy hosted a celebration of Prof. Finkelstein's career in physics with invited talks and presentations. You may visit the symposium website here.

If you wish to donate in memory of Prof. Finkelstein, please click the button below for the Chair's Discretionary Fund and there will be a place to add his name. Donations to this fund in Bob's memory will be transferred to the Finkelstein Fellowship fund.


Cards for the family may be sent to:

  • Department Chair
    UCLA Dept. of Physics & Astronomy MS154705
    475 Portola Plaza
    Los Angeles, CA 90095-1547

Personal Comments

N D Hari Dass added at 2021-04-06 06:41:18
I was shocked to learn of Bob's passing away when I was trying to email him about his recent work on monopoles and the gravitational field. I remember how supportive he was of me during my post-doc at ucla 1971-73. He and Nora came home for dinner in Amsterdam. His close buddy Wouthuysen was there too and they regaled us with many tales. I will miss him. My condolences to his family.
Lawrence P. Staunton added at 2020-12-11 17:50:23
I will always be grateful for the mentorship of Bob Finkelstein. RIP
Kim Milton added at 2020-10-07 16:18:00
I first met Bob in 1971 when he was 55 years old. I had just come from Harvard with Julian Schwinger, finishing my dissertation and about to embark on a postdoc at UCLA, which, unknown to me, was going to continue for another eight years. Bob was very welcoming and agreed to be a member of my Ph.D. committee (Harvard had very flexible rules for Travelling Guidance). Very quickly Bob became part of Schwinger's group. Together with my fellow postdocs from Harvard, Lester DeRaad and Wu-yang Tsai, and (still-student) Jack Ng, we had lunch with Julian nearly every week after Julia's class (source theory, electrodynamics, quantum mechanics,...). Conversations were wide-ranging, and Bob, of course, told many stories and shared remarkable insights. For example, we heard first-hand about the remarkably many wrong experiments that impeded the recognition of the V-A structure of the weak interactions. It was a heady time for us newly-minted Ph.D's. Bob had recently had a sabbatical in Chile, which resulted in Luis Urrutia coming to UCLA, who ended up being Julian's best student of that period. Toward the end of my postdoc at UCLA, Bob and I wrote a paper together with Urrutia on the construction of supergravity from local supersymmetry transformations, complementary to simultaneous work by Boulware, Deser, and Kay. This was an application of Julian's late recognition of the beauty of Bose-Fermi transformations, to which we were all brought up to speed by private lectures given by Stan Deser himself. I regret that I never had further direct collaborations with Bob. After I left UCLA for Ohio and then Oklahoma, I kept in touch with Bob occasionally, for example at the 70th Birthday celebration of Julian's, a few visits to UCLA, and, much more recently, Bob's own 100th Birthday Celebration. I remember very fondly a visit to Southern California in 2007 when Bob and Norma invited the three reunited Sourcerer's Apprentices (me, Lester, and Wu-yang) to dinner at their home in Santa Monica. I was very touched when Bob and Norma came to my own 65th birthday celebration, where Bob talked about his new work on knots, at age 94! This work continued up to the very end! He was supposed to come to Singapore in 2018 for Schwinger 100, but he had broken his hip, so could not come, but nevertheless delivered his talk by prerecorded video. Bob was a gentle giant in physics. He contributed enormously to theoretical physics over his long life, and was a mentor and inspiration to so many. He is sorely missed!
Lisa Schlein added at 2020-09-11 09:25:00
It is with sadness that I hear of Bob's death, but I would rather celebrate his life than mourn his passing. He was a giant among physicists and much honored for his accomplishments. He is also to be honored for his humanity. Bob was a lovely, lovely man. He was gentle and caring. Bob lived a long life and he lived it well. I will miss him. My deepest condolences to Norma and to his family.
Jan Smit added at 2020-09-08 04:55:22
Bob taught me how to do detailed calculations. I have lost a father in science and a friend.
Pyung Seong Kwon added at 2020-09-04 23:58:01
"I always feel gratefulness to prof. Finkelstein. I never forget about the favors and kindness he had shown to an ordinary foreign student. Prof. Finkelstein was the greatest teacher and scientist I have ever met in my life."
Daniel Sternheimer added at 2020-09-03 16:30:35
"Meeting with Bob (and Norma) has always been a highlight of my numerous visits to UCLA, both scientifically and personally. On the scientific side the variety of Bob's talents was impressive, including his original steps into mathematical physics. Our meetings started in the early 70s with Moshe Flato, and afterward with Noriko Sakurai. Norma rightfully diagnosed that Moshe and I were ""a team,"" and it is at their home that my relationship with Noriko took shape. Bob was a dear friend, a physicist and a gentleman. "
Helmut Satz added at 2020-09-03 16:28:30
"Bob was the supervisor for my first post-doc position in 1967/68, and we last met some five years ago. Farewell to a wonderful person and a great physicist. Our thoughts are with you, Norma. Helmut & Karin"
Manuel Villasante added at 2020-09-03 16:27:24
I don't think I can find the proper words, at least not in English. If there ever was a scientist I would have liked to emulate, that would have been Bob Finkelstein. Rest in peace Bob, now that you have finally stopped working. You will not be forgotten, not in my thoughts nor in my prayers.
Eric D'Hoker added at 2020-09-02 17:44:47
Bob was a wonderful human being and a great scientist. His excellent taste in physics helped build the strong group in theoretical physics that we have at UCLA today. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to Norma, Ruth, and Bob's family. He was a kind colleague and a loyal friend who will be missed very much.
Charlie Kennel added at 2020-09-02 17:40:36
I have known a few geniuses in my time, but of them all, Bob was the kindest and gentlest. These are qualities to be treasured in these fraying times.