Marvin Leonard Goldberger, a theoretical physicist and former president of the California Institute of Technology, died of cancer on Wednesday in La Jolla. He was 92. His death was confirmed by his son Joel.
Marvin started his career during World War II as a particle physicist with the top-secret Manhattan Project. He then taught at Princeton University when he was named Caltech president in 1978. During his nine-year tenure, he oversaw the doubling of Caltech’s endowment which included major gifts including a record-breaking $70-million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 1985.
This was one gift that made Goldberger the envy of colleges and universities nationwide. It substantially spurred the development of the Keck Observatory, which houses the world’s two largest telescopes for probing the universe.
He also played an instrumental role in attracting a $40-million gift from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. This grant went in to establish the Beckman Institute, devoted to developing technology for research in biology and chemistry.
On Goldberger death, Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum said in a statement, “Murph was a man whose excitement about physics was contagious, and his enjoyment of life and caring for individuals deeply felt. He held to a vision to push the institute to new heights of discovery and educational distinction”.
Born in Chicago on October 22, 1922, Goldberger was the son of a real estate broker. His mother nicknamed him Molsh, which childhood friends turned into Murph. In 1943, he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. Then while serving in the Army, he was assigned to the atomic bomb-building Manhattan Project, headquartered at the University of Chicago, where he worked under renowned physicists Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller. He earned a doctorate in physics at the University of Chicago in 1948.