Primack, Joel 1945- (J.R. Primack, Joel R. Primack, Joel Robert Primack)

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Primack, Joel 1945- (J.R. Primack, Joel R. Primack, Joel Robert Primack)


Born July 14, 1945, in Santa Barbara, CA; son of Roy (in business) and Loretta Primack; married Nancy Ellen Abrams, September 4, 1977; children: Samara Tatiana Abrams-Primack. Education: Princeton University, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1966; Stanford University, Ph.D., 1970. Politics: "Jeffersonian." Religion: Jewish.


Home—Santa Cruz, CA. Office—Department of Physics, University of California, Interdisciplinary Science Building, Room 322, Santa Cruz, CA 95064. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected].


Writer, educator, consultant, and physicist. Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford, CA, research associate, 1970; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, junior fellow of Society of Fellows, 1970-73; University of California, Santa Cruz, assistant professor, 1973-77, associate professor, 1977-83, professor of physics, 1983—. Rockefeller University, New York, NY, visiting researcher, 1972, 1975; Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris, France, visiting researcher, 1978; Max Planck Institute of Physics and Astrophysics, Munich, Germany, visiting researcher, 1983; Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, visiting researcher, 1984; University of California, Berkeley, visiting researcher, 1989-90; Institute of Advanced Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, visiting fellow, 1990; Aspen Center for Physics, summer fellow, 1974, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1991, and 1993. Theoretical Advanced Study Institute in Particle Physics and Cosmology, director, 1986; Enrico Fermi School of Cosmology, codirector, 1995. Consultant to Ford Foundation Energy Policy Project, McGovern-for-President campaign, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.


American Physical Society (fellow, 1988; member of Executive Committee of Division of Astrophysics, 2000-02; member of Panel on Public Affairs, 2002-04; currently chair of Forum on Physics and Society), American Association for the Advancement of Science, Federation of American Scientists (member of national council, 1970-74; member of Soviet Scientists Joint Disarmament Project committee, 1987-90), American Association of University Professors, American Astronomy Society, Sierra Club.


Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1966; National Science Foundation fellowship, 1966-70; A.P. Sloan Foundation research fellowship, 1974-78; Forum of Physics and Society Award (with Frank von Hippel), American Physical Society, 1977; Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Senior Award, 1999; fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grant; National Science Foundation grant.


(With Frank von Hippel) The Politics of Technology: Activities and Responsibilities of Scientists in the Direction of Technology, Stanford Workshops on Political and Social Issues, Stanford University (Stanford, CA), 1970.

(With Frank von Hippel) Advice and Dissent: Scientists in the Political Arena, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1974.

(Editor, with S. Bonometto and A. Provenzale) Dark Matter in the Universe: Varenna on Lake Como, Villa Monastero, 25 July-4 August 1995, IOS Press (Washington, DC), 1996.

(With wife, Nancy Ellen Abrams) The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science, World Book Encyclopedia, and the Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Contributor to professional journals and popular magazines, including Astronomy, Beam Line, California Wild, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Science, Scientific American, Technology Review, and Sky and Telescope. Member of editorial board, Beam Line, 1994.


Joel Primack is a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. An active author as well as researcher, Primack conducts his work primarily in the areas of "relativistic quantum field theory and in cosmology and particle astrophysics, a field that he has helped create," noted a biographer on the University of California, Santa Cruz Web site. In addition, he studies the creation and identity of universal dark matter, the little-understood matter that makes up most of the mass of the universe, and how it behaves during the formation and distribution of galaxies. Other aspects of Primack's research centers on U.S. science and technology policy and on the cultural implications of cosmological research and advancement.

Much of Primack's work, either by himself or in collaboration with other scientists, has resulted in pioneering discoveries and the development of new theories. In the 1970s, Primack was instrumental in the development of the Standard Model of particle physics. In collaboration with Ben Lee and Sam Trieman, in 1972, Primack performed the first calculation of the mass of the charmed quark. More recently, in conjunction with fellow UCSC astronomers George Blumenthal and Sandra Faber, he developed the Cold Dark Matter (CDM) theory, prominently and widely applied in theoretical and observational cosmology, noted the UCSC Web site biographer.

In The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos, Primack and his wife and coauthor Nancy Ellen Abrams ponder the nature and origin of the universe and the place of the comparatively insignificant human race within it. The authors' "readable, lyrically written new book" takes a close look at the "past, present, and future of our understanding of the universe," commented Denise Dayton in the Library Journal. While scientific understanding of the universe has steadily increased in recent years, "our connection with it has become tenuous and to many people, unimportant," stated a reviewer in Science News. This view, according to Primack and Abrams, is incorrect: humans ultimately do "hold a special place in the universe," commented the Science News reviewer. The authors explore ancient cosmology and myth and how they connect to human conceptions of the universe and how, by understanding more about the Earth, people can forge a stronger connection between themselves and the greater forces around them. Because we are constructed of the same "star stuff" as the universe, they assert, we have a definite place within its structure. The combination of Primack's credentials as an astrophysicist and cosmologist, and Abrams's background as a poet, philosopher, and mythology scholar, results in a work that combines scientific explanations of the structure and composition of the universe with spiritual ruminations on how humans can expect to "fit into the cosmos—personally, collectively, and meaningfully," noted a reviewer in Tikkun.

Primack told CA: "Starting in my last year in graduate school, and continuing as a Harvard Junior Fellow, I have devoted considerable thought and effort toward improving the democratic control of technology in our society. I am particularly proud to have had a hand in creating the Stanford Workshops on Political and Social Issues at Stanford University, the Forum on Physics and Society of the American Physical Society, and the AAAS-APS Congressional Fellowships for Scientists."



Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2006, review of The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos, p. 173.

Library Journal, February 1, 2006, Denise Dayton, review of The View from the Center of the Universe, p. 102.

Publishers Weekly, January 23, 2006, review of The View from the Center of the Universe, p. 199.

Science News, April 29, 2006, review of The View from the Center of the Universe, p. 271.

Tikkun, November-December, 2006, review of The View from the Center of the Universe, p. 97.


Joel R. Primack Home Page, (April 15, 2007).

University of California, Santa Cruz Web site, (April 15, 2007), biography of Joel R. Primack.

View from the Center of the Universe Web site, (April 15, 2007).