• 1927 February 05
    (b.) -
    2003 September 28


An American plasma physicist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, in 1997 he was awarded the National Medal of Science for discoveries in controlled thermonuclear fusion, contributions to plasma physics and work in computational statistical mechanics. He was also a recipient of the E.O. Lawrence Prize (1964), the Albert Einstein Award (1967), the James Clerk Maxwell Prize in Plasma Physics (1976), and the Enrico Fermi Award (1985). He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1942. He did his undergraduate study at Harvard, graduating in 1946 (B.S., Phi Beta Kappa), despite also serving in the U.S. Navy (1944?46) during this period. He received his Ph.D. in 1949 from the University of Chicago. During his first post-doctoral position at Stanford University (1949?1950), he derived the Rosenbluth formula, which was the basis of the analysis used by Robert Hofstadter in his Nobel prize-winning experimental investigation of electron scattering. Hofstadter refers to this in his 1961 Nobel Lecture: "This behavior can be understood in terms of the theoretical scattering law developed by M. Rosenbluth in 1950". In 1953, he derived the Metropolis algorithm; cited in Computing in Science and Engineering (Jan. 2000) as being among the top 10 algorithms having the "greatest influence on the development and practice of science and engineering in the 20th century." In 1950, Edward Teller, considered the father of the hydrogen bomb, recruited him to work at Los Alamos where he maintained this position until 1956. The research he conducted at Los Alamos led to the development of the H-bomb. Upon his retirement, he took on the responsibility of chief scientist of the Central Team for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) until 1999. He also served as a member of the JASON Defense Advisory Group. He was affectionately known as the Pope of Plasma Physics in reference to his deep understanding of the field. He coauthored, the 1953 paper ?Equation of State Calculations by Fast Computing Machines?, along with Nicholas Metropolis after whom the algorithm was named, Arianna W. Rosenbluth, Augusta H. Teller, and Edward Teller who first proposed the algorithm for the specific case of the Boltzmann distribution; and W. Keith Hastings, who extended it to the more general case in 1970. There is controversy over the credit for discovery of the algorithm. Edward Teller states in his memoirs that the five authors of the 1953 paper worked together for "days (and nights)"; while he, in an oral history recorded shortly before his death, credits E. Teller with posing the original problem, himself with solving it, and A.W. Rosenbluth (his wife) with programming the computer. He asserts neither Metropolis nor A.H. Teller participated in any way. His account of events is supported by other contemporary recollections. By the late 1950s, he turned his attention to the burgeoning discipline of plasma physics and quickly laid the foundation for many avenues of research in the field, particularly the theory of plasma instabilities. Although he continued to work on plasma physics for the remainder of his career, he often made forays into other fields. For example, around 1980, he and coworkers produced a detailed analysis of the free electron laser, indicating how its spectral intensity can be optimized. He maintained a high productivity rate throughout his entire career. Indeed, only a few years before his death, he discovered the existence of residual flows (so-called Rosenbluth-Hinton flows), a key result for understanding turbulence in tokamaks. In ?Turing?s Cathedral? by George Dyson it is noted, ?Refinements were made, especially the so-called Metropolis algorithm (later the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm) that made Monte Carlo even more effective by favoring more probable histories from the start. ?The most important property of the algorithm is . . . that deviations from the canonical distribution die away,? explains Marshall Rosenbluth, who helped invent it. ?Hence the computation converges on the right answer! I recall being quite excited when I was able to prove this.?
  • Date of Birth:

    1927 February 05
  • Date of Death:

    2003 September 28
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  • Noted For:

    Deriver of the Metropolis algorithm; cited in Computing in Science and Engineering (Jan. 2000) as being among the top 10 algorithms having the "greatest influence on the development and practice of science and engineering in the 20th century."
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