Date: April 11, 1997
Schwarzschild made seminal contributions to the study of stellar structure and stellar evolution. His work explained the existence of giant stars, with extended hydrogen envelopes around helium cores, and uncovered important new phenomena which occur during a stellar lifetime, including shell flashes and other instabilities. His 1958 book Structure and Evolution of the Stars (Princeton University Press) has been a standard text for a generation of students entering this field.
Working with John von Neumann in Princeton in the late 1940s, Schwarzschild was one of the first to capitalize on the powers of electronic digital computers for scientific research. Schwarzschild also collaborated with his Princeton University astrophysics colleague, Lyman Spitzer, on the design of a fusion reactor that mimics the sun.
Schwarzschild, like Spitzer, also pioneered in the use of space telescopes for precise imagery of the Sun, planets and stellar systems. His Stratoscope I, a 12-inch diameter solar telescope lifted to 80,000 feet altitude by balloon, was the first instrument to obtain sharp photographs above most of the earth's fluctuating atmosphere, and gave fascinating new information on dynamical processes in the sun's atmosphere. For this work Schwarzschild won the Newcomb-Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1957. His subsequent Stratoscope II, with a mirror 36 inches in diameter, gave similar first-of-a-kind results of the outer planets and galactic nuclei.
Schwarzschild served on various national science advisory committees on space research from 1959 to 1969.
He was born May 31, 1912, in Potsdam, Germany. His father Karl Schwarzschild was a celebrated astrophysicist. Martin Schwarzschild received his PhD from the University of Goettingen in 1935 and was a research fellow at Oslo University until 1937 when he became a research fellow at the Harvard College Observatory. From 1940 to 1947 he was a lecturer and assistant professor at Columbia.
Enlisting in the U.S. Army as a private, Schwarzschild was promoted to sergeant and (recommended for OCS) became a first lieutenant. A specialist on bombing surveys, he was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.
Schwarzschild joined the Princeton faculty as professor in 1947. He came, he said, "for the express purposes of working in association with Lyman Spitzer." (Spitzer, who also came to Princeton 50 years ago this spring, died March 31). Schwarzschild was appointed to the Eugene Higgins Chair in 1950. In 1955 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to carry out studies of stellar evolution.
He received the Henry Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences, the Eddington Medal and the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society of England, the Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Silver Medal of the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, the Dannie Heineman Prize of Die Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Goettingen, Prix Janssen from the Societe Astronomique de France, the Medal of the Association pour le Developpement International de l'Observatoire de Nice, and the Balzan Prize.
He held honorary degrees from Swarthmore College, Columbia and Princeton, where he was known among his students as a great teacher.
A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the National Academy of Sciences, he served as president of the American Astronomical Society from 1970 to 1972 and the vice president of the International Astronomical Union from 1964 to 1970. A foreign associate of the Royal Astronomical Society, he was a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters, the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, and the American Philosophical Society.
He is survived by his wife Barbara Cherry of Newtown, Pa., and a sister Agathe Thornton of Dunedin, New Zealand.
Plans are being made for a memorial service at Princeton University. Contributions may be made to the National Planned Parenthood Association or to the Pennswood Village Endowment Fund, 1382 Newtown-Langhorne Rd., Newtown, Pa. 18940. Arrangements are by Fluehr Funeral Home.
Notes: A photograph of Professor Schwarzschild is available at http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pictures/.