Nobelprize winner Martinus Veltman passes away at 89

6 January 2021

In his hometown Bilthoven the Dutch physicist and Nobel Prize winner Martinus Veltman died on Monday. Veltman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1999 for his pioneering contributions to particle theory.

In the 1960’s Veltman laid the foundation for the standard model of particle physics, a theory in which elementary forces are described in their context.

Veltman at the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2019. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel

He firmly believed that the theory of weak interaction could have the same mathematical structure as the theory of electromagnetic interaction. In electromagnetic calculations, infinity could already be eliminated by redefining, so-called renormalization. Veltman was the first to show that in certain cases this could also be done for the weak interaction.

Veltman and his PhD student Gerard ‘t Hooft proved around 1970 that this approach could be applied much more generally. These so-called non-abelian gauge theories laid the foundation for the current standard model for particle physics, in which both interactions come together in the electroweak theory.

The breakthrough, one of the great moments in twentieth century physics, was finally awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1999.

Martinus Justinus Godefriedus Veltman (Tini for his inner circle) was born in 1931 in Waalwijk as the son of a head teacher. After the war he studied physics in Utrecht, where he graduated with professor Leon van Hove in 1956.

In 1961 he left for CERN for a doctorate with his former professor and future CERN director Van Hove. He obtained his doctorate there in 1963. In the following years he also worked for some time at SLAC and the Stanford University. In 1966 Veltman became professor of theoretical physics in Utrecht, with an interest in both theory and experiment. At that time he was also one of the founding fathers of particle physics institute Nikhef.

In 1981 Veltman became professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he worked until his retirement in 1996. After that he returned to the Netherlands, where he still regularly gave talks and lectures. In 2001 he received an honorary professorship from the University of Amsterdam.

In 2004 Veltman published a popular scientific book Facts and Mysteries in Particle Physics (Veen) on his subject. Asteroid 9492 Veltman is also named after him.

An extensive necrology of Martinus Veltman can be read here.