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Nobel Prize-winning physicist, former Stanford professor Burton Richter dies at 87

Decorated scholar known for his discovery of the J/psi subatomic particle

Burton Richter, a former Stanford University physics professor who won the Nobel Prize in 1976, died Wednesday in Palo Alto. He was 87 years old.

Richter was known for his discovery of the J/psi subatomic particle, which verified that the charm quark existed, sending shockwaves to existing theories at the time and led to a recalibration in theoretical physics. The finding was later known as the "November Revolution" and earned him a Nobel Prize when he was 45 years old, making him one of the youngest recipients, according to Stanford News Service. He shared the award with Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He was a Paul Pigott professor in the physical sciences, emeritus, whose research focused on experimental particle physics with high-energy electrons and electron positron colliding beams, according to his biography on Stanford's website.

Richter was also the director of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory operated by Stanford, from 1984 to 1999. In 2014, the physicist also won the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor in the country.

"We mourn the loss of Burton Richter as a major figure in the field of physics and as a leader of physics and as a leader of SLAC during a critical period in its history," Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement issued Thursday. "His co-discovery of a new subatomic particle changed physics forever, and his leadership at SLAC empowered many others to achieve transformative scientific discoveries. His many honors, including the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science, are testament to his lasting contributions to Stanford and to our world."

Born in Brooklyn, New York on March 22, 1931, Richter developed an early interest in science from a young age. He attended MIT where he obtained a Bachelor of Science in 1952 and a doctorate in physics four years later. It was during his years at MIT where he had access to a particle accelerator and his experience there brought him to Stanford's High-Energy Physics Lab to work as a research associate. He moved up the ranks to assistant professor physics, associate professor and finally professor in 1967.

During the early 1960s, Richter designed the Stanford Positron-Electron Accelerator Ring, which was considered a "groundbreaking" detector used on particle colliders, according to Stanford News Service.

"Burt was unique in that he was both a particle physicist and an accelerator physicist, whereas most people are one or the other," current SLAC Director Chi-Chang Kao said in a statement.

Under Richter's leadership at SLAC, the Stanford Linear Collider was built, the only linear accelerator of its kind to produce "much more energetic collisions," according to Stanford News Service.

Richter went on to receive the Philip Hauge Abelson Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007 and three years later published "Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century."

The physicist was also a recipient of the Department of Energy's Enrico Fermi Award in 2012 and Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 1976. He had affiliations with many national and international science-based nonprofits and institutions. Richter additionally served on the Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee, where he chaired the subcommittee on fuel cycle from 2000 to 2013.

Richter is survived by his wife, Laurose; daughter, Elizabeth; son, Matthew; daughter-in-law, Cheryl; and grandchildren, Allison and Jennifer.

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