Yuval Ne'eman, dean of Israeli scientists, dies at 80

He was not only the initiator of the Science Ministry but also founder and chairman of the Israel Space Agency.

yuval neeman 88 (photo credit: )
yuval neeman 88
(photo credit: )
Prof. Yuval Ne'eman, 80, a world-acclaimed physicist, multi-talented academic, one of Israel's most prominent scientists and a right-wing ideologue, died on Wednesday at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center after suffering a stroke. Born in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1925, he was not only the initiator of the Science and Technology Ministry and twice minister but also the founder and chairman of the Israel Space Agency. His coffin is to be on view in the courtyard of the Tel Aviv University Senate Building on Thursday from noon, and a funeral ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. in the presence of the family and President Moshe Katsav. At 2 p.m., buses will take mourners to the Old Cemetery on Tel Aviv's Rehov Trumpeldor, where he will be buried at 3. He leaves a wife, Dvora, a son and daughter, and a sister, Ruth Ben-Yisrael. TAU president Itamar Rabinovich said he got to know Ne'eman well from their university connections. "As the second president of TAU, he largely set its standard in science," he said. "Every conversation with him was an experience. He was a genius, and I do not use that term lightly. He was a very rare person, an officer and a gentleman." Ne'eman graduated with an engineering degree from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. In his doctoral thesis at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London (1960-61), he discovered the basic symmetry of the subatomic particles of matter. This led to their classification, the prediction of new particles and his identification in 1962 of a new layer in the structure of matter - "quarks" (as named by M. Gell-Mann and G. Zweig, who further developed the idea). Ne'eman made other important contributions to particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology and the philosophy of science. A mechanical engineer by training, he served as an IDF officer for 12 years. Ne'eman was founder and director of TAU's School of Physics and Astronomy from 1965 to 1972, president of TAU from 1971 to 1975 and director of its Sackler Institute of Advanced Studies from 1979 to 1997. He was also the director of the Center for Particle Theory at the University of Texas from 1968 to 1990. A strong believer in the importance of space research and satellites to the country's economic future and security, Ne'eman founded the Israel Space Agency in 1983 and chaired it almost until his death. He also served on the Atomic Energy Commission from 1965 to 1984 and held the position of scientific director in its Sorek facility. Ne'eman was chief scientist of the Defense Ministry from 1974 to 1976. Ne'eman was elected to the Knesset as head of the right-wing Tehiya party. He represented it for two years as minister of science when the ministry was established for the purpose of his and his party's joining the Likud coalition, and then again from 1990 to 1992, when he also served as energy minister.