Physicist who helped world see first moon walk dies
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Physicist who helped world see first moon walk dies

Ernest Sternglass, son of Jewish doctors who fled Nazi Germany, was told by Einstein to ‘keep a cobbler’s job’ instead of pursuing theoretical physics

Physicist Ernest Sternglass (screen capture: YouTube)
Physicist Ernest Sternglass (screen capture: YouTube)

A physicist whose career was highlighted by research that helped capture moving images of the first moon walk has died. Ernest Sternglass was 91.

Cornell University said Sternglass died February 12 of heart failure in Ithaca, New York.

Sternglass, the son of two Jewish physicians, was born in Berlin in 1923, and fled Nazi Germany to the United States with his family in 1938. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cornell, as well as his doctorate.

Sternglass corresponded early in his career with Albert Einstein, who encouraged him to pursue applied physics over theoretical research.

Cornell said Sternglass’ research helped lead to a sensitive television camera tube that captured low-light lunar action during the 1969 moon landing. He also performed pioneering work in digital X-rays.

He worked on medical imaging for many years at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

In this Jan. 27, 1970, file photo, Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass, professor of radiation physics at the University of Pittsburgh, holds radiation charts, which will be shown on a British television program on pollution dust, in London. (photo credit: AP/L. Brown, File)
In this Jan. 27, 1970, file photo, Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass, professor of radiation physics at the University of Pittsburgh, holds radiation charts, which will be shown on a British television program on pollution dust, in London. (photo credit: AP/L. Brown, File)

As a 23-year-old Cornell graduate, he was working at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington, D.C., when he wrote to Albert Einstein in 1947 to offer an explanation on a scientific matter. To his surprise, he was invited to the famous scientist’s home in Princeton, New Jersey.

Einstein told the young researcher not to pursue a career in theoretical physics and advised him to, instead, “always keep a cobbler’s job” and do useful things. Sternglass went on to earn his master’s degree and his doctorate in applied and engineering physics from Cornell.

He was among the early scientists concerned with the health effects of atomic bomb testing. In 1963, he presented testimony to the Senate Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty hearing comparing atmospheric bomb testing with an unsafe level of X-ray exposure.

Sternglass’s second wife died in 2004. He is survived by a son, a daughter and four grandchildren.

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