Erwin Gabathuler (1933 - 2016)

It was with great sadness that we learned last week that Erwin Gabathuler passed away on 29 August.


Erwin Gabathuler discussing the NA2 experiment in 1977.

A native of Belfast, Gabathuler embarked on a research career into the study of atmospheric gases at Queen’s University in the mid-1950s. It is particle physics’ gain and atmospheric science’s loss that he commuted his PhD studies to an MSc after one year and moved to Glasgow to study pions at Glasgow’s 300 MeV synchrotron. In 1961, with his doctorate under his belt, he moved to Cornell University as a research associate, returning to the UK in 1964 where he joined the Daresbury laboratory and played a major role in establishing the experimental programme at the laboratory’s 5 GeV synchrotron, NINA.

Gabathuler’s association with CERN began in 1974, when he came to the laboratory to work on a proposal to do physics with a 300 GeV muon beam in the North Area. This proposal became the European Muon Collaboration, EMC. Muon experiments have run almost uninterrupted in the North Area since the first EMC experiment got underway in 1978, and have brought us great insights into the internal structure and dynamics of nucleons and nuclei. The muon programme continues today under the guidance of the COMPASS collaboration. In 1978, Gabathuler was appointed head of CERN’s EP Division and went on to become Research Director in 1981.

In 1983 he was appointed to a chair in physics at the University of Liverpool and became Head of the Particle Physics group in the Department of Physics, a position he was to hold until his retirement in 2002. During this period, he established a thriving particle physics group at the University with participation in many important experiments globally. As particle physics moved into the collider era, he steered Liverpool into the H1 and HERMES experiments at DESY, and nurtured the group’s growing contribution to the DELPHI experiment at CERN. His interest in symmetry led him to drive forward the construction and physics of the CPLEAR experiment at CERN, and he later initiated a Liverpool group working on the BaBar experiment at Stanford. Before Liverpool marked his retirement with an ‘Erwinfest’ in 2002, he had guided the Liverpool group into the LHC experiments ATLAS and LHCb, for which the group developed considerable expertise in silicon tracker technology.

Those who knew him remember a great experimental physicist and an effective leader who showed genuine concern for the wellbeing and development of all in his charge.

His colleagues and friends