University of Rochester

Physicist Frederick Lobkowicz Dies at 65

February 6, 1998

Frederick Lobkowicz, a professor of physics at the University of Rochester who helped develop key elements of the technology physicists use to investigate matter at its most fundamental level, died Feb. 3 in Pittsburgh. A member of the University faculty since 1962, Lobkowicz was 65.

Funeral services were held today (Friday, Feb. 6) at Christ Church in Rochester.

Lobkowicz is best known for his many contributions to liquid argon calorimetry, an important technology used to detect and measure the position and energy of high-energy electrons and photons. He was the first to use this technology, invented by scientists at the European high-energy accelerator laboratory CERN in Switzerland, in an experiment carried out in the United States. Lobkowicz used the technology to help design and build a series of detectors that physicists from around the world have used in a variety of studies.

The intellectual gifts that brought Lobkowicz to the forefront of scientific discovery also extended to many other disciplines, say colleagues.

"Fred could talk of Irish history, or discuss the Napoleonic wars, or program in any number of computer languages," says Paul Slattery, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. "He could talk to mathematicians about mathematics, to historians about history, or to philosophers about philosophy -- and he could do so in fluent English, French, German or Czech."

A native of Prague, Lobkowicz was born into one of the Czech Republic's noble families, with roots in Prague and Vienna that date back for generations. The family boasts one of the largest art collections in Europe, and Beethoven's Third Symphony is dedicated to the family. Like his kin, Lobkowicz maintained broad interests, beyond those which led to his earning a doctor of science degree in physics at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule in Zurich.

"Fred's interests spanned a huge intellectual range. In physics I could assign him any course over our entire curriculum, graduate or undergraduate, and he could teach it, and teach it well," Slattery says. "He also had remarkable engineering skills, encompassing mechanical design, cryogenic engineering, and electronics."

Lobkowicz drew on all these skills in designing and building two calorimeters for use at Fermilab, the premier U.S. accelerator complex in Batavia, Ill. These were large and complex devices, consisting of many layers of lead and copper-clad circuit boards, immersed in hundreds of gallons of liquid argon maintained at very cold temperatures. The calorimeters operate like super-fast electronic cameras, capturing the "electronic footprint" of high-energy particles.

Together with his close collaborators in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Professors Slattery and Tom Ferbel, Lobkowicz used the Fermilab instruments to study quarks and gluons, fundamental particles that lie at the heart of the atomic nucleus. He also helped design and construct a similar but larger device used by the DZero collider detector at Fermilab. The detector played an important role in the 1995 discovery of the top quark, the heaviest of the 12 basic building blocks that scientists believe make up everything in the universe.

More recently, he almost single-handedly designed a key portion of the liquid argon calorimeter that lies at the heart of ATLAS, one of two detectors scientists are building for use at CERN. In the next decade physicists will use these detectors to study matter at even higher energies and in more detail than is now possible.

Lobkowicz remained intensely involved in his work up until the time of his death. "His discipline and determination were remarkable and inspirational," says Slattery. "He managed to sign the drawings for his last project and submit them to potential fabricators on the day before he entered the hospital for what was to be the last time."

Lobkowicz was a major reason why the University's physicists have taken part in many of the important experiments in high-energy physics during the last several decades, Slattery says. "The history of the Rochester high-energy physics group would have been entirely different without Fred. We never would have been able to attempt, much less successfully carry out, the projects in which he was involved without him.

"I never ceased to be amazed and awed by the breadth and depth of Fred's knowledge; he seemed to have read everything. Despite our innumerable conversations over the past 20-odd years, I'm sure I only came in contact with the surface of what he knew."

Lobkowicz was a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the Swiss and Czech physical societies. He spent one year as a Humboldt Fellow at the University of Munich. At the University he was a former chair of the Faculty Senate Steering Committee.

Lobkowicz is survived by his wife, Carolyn, of Penfield; a son, Philip, of New York City; a daughter, Mary Christine, of Atlanta; stepchildren Mark Stockdale of Gainesville, Fla., and Sarah Lawn of Detroit; a brother, Nikolaus Lobkowicz of Munich, Germany; and two sisters, Maria Theresia von Kellersperg and Anna Maria Lobkowicz of Austria.

Donations in Lobkowicz's memory may be made to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.