Asher Peres , 1934-2005

Prof. Asher Peres  
"Those who had the privilege of knowing [Asher] personally will always remember his kindness, modesty, integrity, and his keen sense of humor. He will be sorely missed by all [of us]".

Asher Peres: Obituary on Nathan Rosen.
Technion Senate, December 24, 1995.

Quoted by

Joseph Avron: Obituary on Asher Peres.
Technion Senate, January 16, 2005.


The year 2004 was a very eventful one in the life of Asher Peres. It started on one of the last days of 2003 when Asher got a phone call announcing that the Yad Hanadiv foundation decided that he was the recipient of the 2004 Rothschild Prize in Physics.

Rothschild Prize ceremony, Jerusalem, May 5, 2004   What did Asher tell the lady on the phone? "Oh, thank you, I'll immediately tell my wife about it".

The ceremony took place on May 5, 2004, at the Knesset (Israel's House of Parliament), in the hall decorated with Marc Chagall's famous tapestries. The "Ariel" quartet played Hayden, the speakers refrained from politics, and it was a really enchanted afternoon.

In this picture are (left to right) Mme. Beatrice de Rothschild Rosenberg (representative of the Rothschild family), MK Eliezer (Modi) Sandberg (the Minister of Science), Professor Yehudit Birk (head of the Rothschild Prize committee) and Professor Asher Peres.

January 30, 2004, was Asher's 70th birthday, and the Physics department at the Technion organized a conference in Asher's honor. The conference took place at the Technion on February 1-2, 2004 (list of participants) . The last speaker on this conference was Asher, and he chose not to talk about Physics, but to tell his life story, in a beautiful narrative he named "I am the cat who walks by himself" ( PostScript and PDF format ) (following the story by Rudyard Kipling ). This autobiography tells the story of Asher's life, his childhood through World War II and his early adulthood, until he met Aviva. As he wrote himself, "The rest of my story is in my formal CV" ( PostScript and PDF format ) .

first slide of Charles Bennett' presentation  
Charles Bennett couldn't attend the conference, so instead, he sent Sandu Popescu a PPT presentation ( PPT , PDF ) which Sandu delivered with great charm at the conference dinner (at the Nof Hotel's Kosher Chinese restaurant), after the main course and before the dessert. All those present will surely remember this wonderfully funny presentation: Charles' camera tricks and Sandu's explanations.
Hint for the uninitiated: the last slide on this presentation is a picture Charles took of the "Anemone" - one of Aviva's textile masterpieces - and Sandu's sweet explanation was "I think here Charlie wanted to say thank you to Aviva for being there for Asher".

Here is another paper by Asher, "What is actually teleported", that he wrote for the occasion of Charles Bennett's 60th birthday. It tells the story of how the very famous paper on "teleportation" was written (the original paper appeared in the IBM Journal of Research and Development, Vol. 48, No. 1 (2004), and a Hebrew translation by Dr. Emanuel Lottem appeared in the PhysicaPlus on-line magazine of the Israel Physical Society, issue no. 4, January 2005, and is copied here with permission).
The "very famous teleportation paper" is: C. H. Bennett, G. Brassard, C. Crepeau, R. Jozsa, A. Peres, and W. K. Wootters, "Teleporting an Unknown Quantum State via Dual Classical and Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Channels," Phys. Rev. Lett. 70, 1895 (1993).

For the occasion of Asher's 70th birthday, Chris Fuchs organized a Festschrift to appear in Foundations of Physics ( list of contributors). Here is the paper by David Mermin (PDF), which includes a few references to Asher's working habits (one of Asher's really short papers, of the type that David refers to in his article, is "Nonlinear variants of Schroedinger's equation violate the second law of thermodynamics", Phys. Rev. Lett. 63, 1114 (1989) ).


Graduate students   Asher had a very special kind of relationship with his graduate students. Some of them really looked upon him as their father... As Yosi Avron put it: those whom he liked, he helped them and backed them as nobody else would, and those whom he didn't like, well....
Asher's last three graduate students were particularly special to him: Daniel Terno (who finished his PhD in 2003), Netanel Lindner (who passed his MSc exam spectacularly on December 30, 2004, just two days before Asher died), and Petra Scudo "la bella signorina di Pavia" as Asher called her, who will finish her PhD with Yosi Avron.
In March 2004 Asher was invited to give a lecture at the "Einstein 125" conference in Ulm, Germany. You may know that Asher never went to Germany, ever since his train trip at the age of 3 from Poland to France. Nevertheless, Asher decided that this particular conference was worth breaking the taboo, and he accepted the invitation. (In fact, Asher and Aviva stayed in Switzerland, and took the train to Ulm for his lecture). In that conference, each speaker was expected to thank his "group" (you know - lab technicians, secretaries etc.), and Asher chose to show the above picture of his three graduate students and said "when my day comes, people will say that I have educated these three excellent scientists". This was to prove how special were Dani, Petra and Netanel to Asher.

The day after Asher died these three young people distributed an obituary to the mailing list of the quantum information community. It was also published on the "qubit news" web-site.


No memory of Asher can be complete without some of his more peculiar habits:

Asher's siestas

Every day, and sometimes more than once a day, Asher would take his nap. Ever since Asher was a young professor, his office at the Technion was equipped with a sofa and a cushion on which he'd take his nap. At the beginning he had a cardboard clock attached to the outer side of his door, which read I AM , and a handle which he'd rotate to the correct location:
-- in the library
-- at a lecture (awake)
(That's when he gave the lecture himself)
-- at a lecture (asleep)
(That's when someone else gave the lecture)
-- here (awake)
-- here (asleep)
-- elsewhere

At some point the clock became too shabby to continue functioning, so Asher replaced it with a note PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB , which was obviously ignored by hordes of students who "just had one little question". After being woken again and again by those knocks on the door, the solution was found - a note which read I'll be back at 14:30 . That did the trick.

Someone said that, on average, Asher published more articles while taking his nap at the Technion than other people did in their waking hours (here is Asher's list of publications PDF,PS ). In fact, when Asher died on January 1, 2005, there were still four of his papers which were yet to be published.

Asher's e-mail

Asher was probably one of last people to use the antique Berkeley Mailer (you know, the system where you'd type a period at the beginning of a line and the message would be delivered, and if you wanted to delete the whole thing you'd hit Ctrl-D and it'd be delivered nevertheless). Asher hated PINE and despised WINDOWS. In fact, the Technion Computer Center arranged on his Linux computer's X-Windows system, that he'd get just one big XTERM window, from which he'd do everything, leaving the mouse exiled somewhere near the monitor. Asher's answer to Aviva's correspondents who'd send her WORD documents was "we are a Microsoft-free household", and requested text messages only. Asher had automatic e-mails ready to be sent to all those who didn't adhere to his special rules: no attachments, no HTML, no TAR (which he'd call "no tar, no feathers").

Asher's paper notes

Asher was forever working, 365 days a year. He had little paper notes in every place - in case he suddenly got a useful idea and he'd want to write it down lest he should forget it (Asher never forgot anything; more on Asher's memory will follow). Asher always had paper notes and a pen in his shirt pocket. Asher had paper notes and a pencil ready for action on a special little shelf in the toilet at home. The worst problem was with ideas which came at night: Asher tried to write them on paper in the darkness, but was terribly irritated in the morning when he couldn't decipher what he'd written, as the lines overlapped. The solution: he put a very weak lamp under the shelf next to his bed, added some extra resistance to make it even weaker, and at night he'd turn on this lamp and write. The light was weak enough not to wake Aviva, and strong enough to prevent writing over the previous line.

Asher's walking

For years, Asher used to walk at least part of the way from home to the Technion. If the weather was nice he'd walk the whole way, and if the weather was not so nice he'd park the car in the nearby neighborhood, and walk the rest of the way. He always wore good expensive Nike shoes, ever since his landlady in Santa Barbara (in the 1980's) recommended them. Once he bought his new pair in the UK, and they were gray with decorative stripes in bright orange and green. Just imagine Aviva's reaction. He wore them nevertheless... On his head Asher wore a white hat, the type called in Hebrew "Idiot's hat". On his back Asher carried his calculations from the previous afternoon, and his lunch, in a bright yellow Children's schoolbag. (Why yellow? Asher insisted it was for safety). Asher always did his first calculation on paper. After he died, his family found on his desk half a dozen pages full of calculations.

Asher's memory

Lydia recalls: Once my Dad was abroad for a few months, and I was in charge of going through his paper-mail at the Technion (example: "If I get a letter where I am requested to be a referee - this is urgent, if I get a letter asking for a reprint - this is not urgent"). It turned out that he was writing a paper and needed a citation which he couldn't find where he was. So he sent me an e-mail with the following instructions (I'm quoting from memory): "At home, in the living room, on the right side of the radio, on the second shelf, the third book from the left is ---, on page 21 there is a footnote. Please send it to me". He knew the citation by heart and was just checking his memory. Of course he was correct to the letter.


Asher and his family

Asher and Nomy at one of Aviva's exhibitions   Asher always went to Aviva's exhibitions (Aviva is a Textile artist - her speciality is Tapestry and Tablet Weaving) armed with his camera. There Asher would walk around proudly, obviously delighted to be called "Mr. Peres" by Aviva's students and fellow artists.
This is a picture of Asher (and his camera) with Nomy at one of Aviva's exhibitions.
This is a picture of Asher with Lydia, at the Technion, on the day Lydia got her PhD diploma (in Applied Mathematics). Lydia and Aviva literally forced Asher to put on that cloak and take part in the traditional "Academic Procession".   Prof. Asher Peres and Dr. Lydia Peres Hari at PhD ceremony, Technion, May 1999
Here is an anecdote: Asher once promised Lydia that if he's awarded the Nobel Prize he'd buy her a Stradivarius violin. (A short calculation soon revealed that Strads are indeed terribly expensive, too expensive even for a Nobel Prize...).

Asher with his grand-daughter Ortal
Asher with his first grandchild - Nomy's daughter Ortal.
Asher and Aviva with their grand-daughter Yael-Haya
    Asher and Aviva with Lydia's daughter Yael-Haya.
Nomy's daughter Ortal was the only one of Asher's grandchildren to attend the Rothschild Prize ceremony. Asher insisted that she be allowed, even though she was not yet 10 years old.


Famous quotes

In the following, The Book refers to "Quantum Theory: Concepts and Methods" by Asher Peres, Kluwer Academic Publishers (1993).

- Quantum phenomena do not occur in a Hilbert space, they occur in a laboratory.
(The Book, p.xi).

- Quantum theory needs no 'interpretation'.
(Eponimous paper by Asher Peres and Chris Fuchs, Physics Today, March 2000, p.70).

- Unperformed experiments have no results.
(Eponimous paper by Asher Peres, American Journal of Physics, 46 (7): 745-747 1978), see also The Book, p.446).
(Thanks to Danny Terno and Ady Mann).

- Every infinite sequence is presumed to be convergent, unless proven guilty.
(The book, p.79).

- Never underestimate the ingenuity of experimental physicists.
(From Found. Phys. 14, 1131 (1984)).
(Thanks to Ady Mann).

- It's not even wrong (attributed to Pauli).

- Don't make mistakes. If you make a mistake you get an incorrect answer.

- You should work 24 hours a day. And if that's not enough - you should work at night too.

- בתשובה ל"אין לי כוח": אין לך אנרגיה, כוח זה וקטור

- עברית זה בשביל תפילות


After My Death
By the Israeli poet Chaim Nachman Bialik

Translated from the Hebrew by David Stern

(reproduced with permission)

After my death, thus shall you mourn me
"There was a man--and see: he is no more!
Before his time did this man depart
And the song of his life in its midst was stilled
And alas! One more tune did he have
And now that tune is forever lost
Forever lost!

And great is the pity! For a harp had he
A living and singing soul
And this poet, whenever he voiced it
The inner secrets of his heart it expressed
All its strings his hand would make sing out.
Yet one hidden chord now is lost with him
Round and round it his fingers would dance
One string in his heart, mute has remained
Mute has remained--to this very day!

And great, oh great is the pity!
All its life this string would tremble
Silently quivering, silently trembling
To sound the tune that would set it free
Yearning, thirsting, sorrowing, desiring
As the heart sorrows for what fate has decreed
Though its tune was delayed--every day did it wait
And with unheard whisper begged it to come
Its time came and passed, and it never arrived
It never arrived!

And great, oh, how great is the pain
There was a man--and see: he is no more
And the song of his life in its midst is stilled
One more melody did he have
And now that song is forever lost
Forever lost!

The original Hebrew text can be read on the Ben Yehuda website.


On the night of January 1, 2005, a few hours after Asher had passed away, Lydia went to his PC to look for the e-mail addresses of Asher's friends and collaborators (luckily, Asher didn't log out). Asher's list of correspondents turned out to consist of eight pages, each containing seventy names. So Aviva sat down and marked those names which she knew - the people Asher used to talk about at home - and Lydia started sending out the bitter news in personal e-mails to all these people. It took two or three days to complete. By 7:30 AM of January 2, 2005, there were already six letters of condolence in Lydia's INBOX (a few years ago, Lydia decided to stop using Asher's beloved Berkeley Mailer, and switched to PINE), the first two letters were from Michael Berry and Koby Rubinstein (Koby was Lydia's PhD supervisor). On a separate web page we put a selection of the dozens of letters of condolence which we received during "Shiv'a" (the Jewish week of mourning) and the following days. Letters from some of the most celebrated Physicists living today, and letters from young scientists at the beginning of their career; letters from Asher's friends at the Technion, a letter from a person who knew Asher from highschool, and a letter from a person Asher met on an airplane back in 1968.

Here's a little anecdote: Asher participated in hundreds of conferences all over the world, and very often chatted a bit with the person sitting next to him in the airplane (before falling asleep for the rest of the flight). Once Asher was sitting next to a Chabadnik, who was flying from Israel to NY to see the Rabbi of Lubavitch. Asher asked him - "What, you're flying all the way for an hour's meeting with the Rabbi of Lubavitch? Is it worth it?" By that time the Chabadnik already knew Asher was a physicist, so he asked in response, "Suppose you could have an hour's meeting with Einstein - wouldn't you fly all the way from Israel to meet him?" Asher had to admit that indeed he would. (End of the story - the Chabadnik didn't eat anything of the food served on the flight. He asked Asher if he wanted anything. Asher asked "Why don't you eat it?" "It's not Kosher enough", answered the Chabadnik. "So why do you offer this to me?" "Oh, for you this is Kosher enough" was the answer).

Click here to read a selection of the condolence letters. All letters are reproduced with permission of their composers.


Nathan Rosen (1909 - 1995)
Nathan Rosen , 1909 - 1995 Nathan Rosen was Asher's PhD supervisor, his mentor and admired model. When Nathan died, he was buried in the old part of the Haifa cemetery, in the last row, near the fence (in Jewish tradition, being buried near the fence is considered a humiliation). The professors of the Physics department were very angry, and Jacques Goldberg said that "we should all ask to be buried here, this is a place of honor". So Asher and Aviva went to the cemetery authorities and bought the place next to Nathan's grave, and Asher was buried next to his beloved teacher.

Below is Asher's obituary of Nathan, from Foundations of Physics. Asher read a Hebrew translation of this obituary at the Technion Senate meeting on December 24, 1995. The last paragraph was quoted by Yosi Avron in his obituary of Asher at the Technion Senate meeting on January 16, 2005.

Here is the full obituary (in Hebrew) read by Yosi Avron at the Technion Senate.

  Foudations of Physics - 47
Foundations of Physics, Vol. 26. No.3. 1996
Nathan Rosen, 1909--1995

Nathan Rosen died in his sleep on 18 December 1995. He had been active in research until his last day, regularly publishing papers in Physics journals (his last two articles have yet to appear). He had taught his General Relativity course until 1991.

Nathan Rosen was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1909, and was educated at M.I.T. (Sc.B., Electromechanical Engineering, 1929, Sc.M., Physics, 1931, Sc.D., Physics, 1932). As a student, he wrote several remarkable papers. One of them, entitled "The Neutron" [1], discussed the hypothetical properties of a composite system, consisting of a proton and a negative particle, tightly bound to it and described by the Klein-Gordon equation. Had the pion been known at that time, this would have given an almost correct prediction of the neutron properties, one year before its experimental discovery by Chadwick. Unfortunately, the only known negative particle was the electron, and that theoretical "neutron" never materialized.

Another article, this one of lasting value, was the first reliable calculation of the structure of the hydrogen molecule [2]. In that work, Rosen used "entangled" wave-functions, which could not be written as products of separate wave-functions for the two electrons in the molecule. None of the electrons had a definite quantum state, only the pair had a pure state. These entangled functions were to play a crucial role in Rosen's work with Einstein a few years later.

In 1934--36, Nathan Rosen was the assistant of Albert Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where they co-authored several articles. These were among the most important of Einstein's contributions to science during the second half of his life. One of these article involved entangles wave-functions, with which Rosen was so familiar. He pointed out to Einstein some of their bizzare properties, and after further collaboration with Boris Podolsky, the celebrated Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox was born [3]. The implications of this paper have been discussed ever since, first as a phylosophical problem, more recently in relation to their potential technical applications for secure communication (quantum cryptography).

Another seminal work, later dubbed the "Einstein-Rosen bridge" [4], was a precursor of the general relativistic wormhole. From that time on, Rosen's main interest was the theory of gravitation. In 1936-38, he briefly worked in the Soviet Union, as many other young physicists at that time (he was a Professor of Physics at the University of Kiev). He then returned to the United States. From 1941-1952, he taught at the University of North Carolina.

In 1953, Nathan Rosen permanently moved to Israel. He joined the Technion, and played a pivotal role in the transformation of this small technical college into a major scientific and technological institution. He was, at various times, Dean of Graduate School, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Head of the Physics Department and Head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering. In 1969-71, he was the Dean of Engineering at the University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva (now Ben-Gurion University), while the latter was being set up. In 1977, he was awarded the title "Distinguished Professor" at the Technion.

Nathan Rosen was one of the founders of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, of the Physical Society of Israel (of which he was president in 1955-57), and of the International Society for General Relativity and Gravitation (its president, 1974-77).

Those who had the privilege of knowing Nathan personally will always remember his kindness, modesty, integrity, and his keen sense of humor. He will be sorely missed by all his friends.

  Asher Peres
Department of Physics
Technion--Israel Institute of Technology
32 000 Haifa, Israel

REFERENCES
[1] R. M. Langer and N. Rosen, "The neutron", Phys. Rev. 37 1579, (1931).
[2] N. Rosen, "Normal state of the hydrogen molecule", Phys. Rev. 38 2099 (1931).
[3] A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, and N. Rosen, "Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?", Phys. Rev. 47 777 (1935).
[4] A. Einstein and N. Rosen, "The particle problem in the general theory of relativity", Phys. Rev. 48 73 (1935).


This site was set up by Dr. Lydia Peres Hari, Asher's elder daughter, in loving memory of her father. If you find any inaccuracies please be so kind as to take a few minutes to inform Lydia at lydia@math.technion.ac.il .
Thank you very much.

The invaluable help of the following individuals is greatfully acknowledged:
Netanel Lindner, Dora Pomerancblum, Edna Tal, Alexander Brook and Assaf Hari.