Leighton, Robert B.

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1919-09-10
Death 1997-03-09
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Leighton (1919-1997 ). Member of physics faculty, California Institute of Technology, 1949-1986.

From the description of Papers, 1938-1988, (1961-1988) (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79357815

Robert Benjamin Leighton (1919- ). Member of physics faculty, California Institute of Technology, 1949-1986. Died 1997.

From the description of Oral history interview with Robert Benjamin Leighton, 1977 July 29 and August 5. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84192601

Biography

Born in Detroit on September 10, 1919, Robert B. Leighton was raised in Long Beach by his mother. He exhibited at an early age an interest in science, particularly in astronomy and photography. He spent his high-school years in Long Beach and Los Angeles schools. He then started a long tenure at Caltech: Bachelor of Science in 1941, Master of Science of 1944, PhD in 1947, research fellowship, and assistant professorship in 1949.

His scientific career debut was in the field of particle physics. He made many important contributions, among them the identification of the mu-meson decay products, the measurement of the energy spectrum of decay electrons, and the first observation of a strange particle decay.

It was only in the mid-1950's that Robert Leighton started to take an active role in astronomy. He turned his attention to the physics of the sun. He developed Doppler-shift and Zeeman-effect solar cameras which were used to demonstrate the existence of the sun's magnetic field and five-minute oscillations.

In the early 1960's, he and Gerry Neugebauer developed a small infrared telescope, used to produce the first infrared survey of the sky. This 60-inch telescope was first set up at Caltech and then moved to the Mount Wilson Observatory.

He became involved in several Mariner projects, particularly the Mariner IV mission where he was the principal investigator for the television experiment. This mission led to the discovery of Martian craters and the determination of the density of the Martian atmosphere. It also returned 22 television pictures covering about one percent of the planet's surface.

In 1970, Professor Leighton's interest shifted to building large, inexpensive dish antennae for millimeter and submillimeter observations. This resulted in the construction of three 10-meter dishes at Owens Valley Radio Observatory and one in Hawaii for submillimeter interferometry.

Besides these accomplishments, Dr. Leighton remained very active in teaching at the Institute. He taught an undergraduate course for many years. He also edited the Feynman Lectures for publication and wrote two textbooks: Principles of Modern Physics and Exercises in Introductory Physics, the latter in collaboration with Dr. Rochus Vogt.

His outstanding academic career is reflected by his nomination to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 1963.

From the guide to the Robert B. Leighton papers, 1938-1988, (California Institute of Technology. Archives.)

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Subjects:

  • Project Mariner
  • Astronomy--Societies, etc
  • Radio telescopes
  • Physics--Study and teaching
  • Cosmic rays
  • Radio--Antennas--Design
  • Medical physics
  • Rocketry
  • Particles (Nuclear physics)
  • Astronomy
  • Astronomical observatories
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Solar cycle
  • Research--Finance
  • Nuclear physics
  • Telescopes--Design
  • Astrophysics--History
  • Radio astronomy
  • Elementary particles
  • Radio astronomy--Data bases

Occupations:

  • Physicists

Places:

  • Mars (Planet) (as recorded)
  • Sun (as recorded)