Sydney Meshkov

For over fifty years Syd Meshkov was a familiar figure around Aspen. An internationally known theoretical physicist, Syd befriended everyone he met, regardless of their station in life. Whether a restaurant waiter or Nobel Laureate, he had many friends in Aspen and worldwide. His enthusiasm extended far beyond his intense devotion to physics and to his family. Syd’s love of life included a love of food, fishing, mushrooming, tennis, skiing, river rafting, horse racing, basketball, endless stories and jokes, and, yes, food, food, food.

Meshkov’s wild white hair gave him an Einsteinian appearance that he happily exploited by playing this role in more than one Aspen Center for Physics 4th of July parade float. He had many favorite fishing spots in the Roaring Fork, Frying Pan and Hunter Creek, as well as treasured and undisclosable mushrooming spots.

Long-time Aspenites will remember “Maurice’s at the Aspen Alps,” where the French-trained chef Maurice Thuillier produced outstanding classical meals, but also shared his expertise in intimate cooking classes. Syd was instrumental in arranging many classes for his physics friends and became a lifelong friend of Thuillier.

Sydney Meshkov was a stalwart member and longtime friend of the ACP from its early days, participating in the research program for fifty summers. He found the atmosphere inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable: “In the spirit of the ACP, where we pursue new and exciting ideas on a daily basis, so, too, I was able to explore the joys and wonders of life in and around Aspen.”

At the topo map in Stranahan Hall planning expeditions with Mike Simmons and Dick Norton or designing ACP tshirts with Steve Berry, rounding up younger fizzies for a volleyball game in back or tennising at “the slums” with DeeDee McCabe and Lorna Pederson and their ACP entourage, Syd loved bringing people together for fun and adventure. He could often be found holding forth with Peter Kaus and others at Pour La France and in later years at Jour de Fete.

Syd’s important roles at the Center included serving as Secretary, Trustee, Board Member, Honorary Member, and, ultimately, Honorary Trustee. He chaired the ACP Winter Conferences for several years and, with Gary Sanders, started the first Winter Conference on gravitational wave detection at Aspen. This led to an international workshop series that he chaired until his death. Meshkov was one of the original organizers of and an annual participant in a series of physics conferences (the “Coral Gables conferences”) taking place at or near the University of Miami. These began in 1964 and continue to the present.

Syd made important contributions in an impressively broad range of fields in theoretical physics. He received his undergraduate A.B. degree in physics (1947) and his Ph.D. in physics (1954) from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as his M.S. (1949) from University of Illinois. His original research in atomic physics devolved into important work in nuclear and particle physics and finally into work on gravitational waves.

Syd held positions at many institutions, most notably at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS, now known as NIST), as a member of the Senior Executive Service (1962-1990), and at Caltech, where he was a Visiting Associate and a Visiting Professor of Theoretical Physics in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a LIGO staff member from 1994 to 2020. Before joining LIGO, Meshkov left NIST to spend four years at the Superconducting Super Collider (1990-1994).

He also held positions at Princeton University, the Weizmann Institute, the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of Pittsburgh, the Center for Theoretical Studies, University of Miami, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware.

Syd was beloved for his warmth, wit and zest for life. Despite health setbacks, he continued, until shortly before his death, to participate actively in research at LIGO, to plan and travel internationally to physics conferences. He never lost his cheerful smile and enthusiasm.

This memorial obituary was originally published by The Aspen Times, (2020) here.

Positions Held

Trustee, 1974 – 1981
Scientific Secretary, 1975 – 1976
General Member, 1990 – 2004
Honorary Member, 2004 – 2009
Honorary Trustee, 2005 – 2020

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