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Joaquin M. Luttinger
Columbia University News

Joaquin Mazdak Luttinger, a leading theorist in solid state physics for whom Luttinger liquids are named, died at Mount Sinai Medical Center Sunday (April 6). He was professor emeritus of physics at Columbia University, where he taught for 33 years. He was 73.

He died of complications resulting from myelodysplasia, a cancer of the bone marrow for which he had undergone treatment for the last three years, said his former wife, Abigail Thomas. He was known to all as "Quin."

"Quin Luttinger was one of the world's leading theorists in condensed matter physics and field theory," said T.D. Lee, Nobel laureate and University Professor at Columbia. In the 1950s, Professor Luttinger published theoretical papers on effective mass theory and on the quantum theory of electrical conductivity that have since become central to the field of semiconductors, according to a longtime collaborator and friend, Walter Kohn, professor emeritus of physics and research professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He also proposed that superconductivity does not require the presence of lattice vibrations, a theory confirmed when high temperature superconductors were discovered in 1985.

In the mid-sixties, he turned increasingly to mathematical models as an explanatory tool in the field of electron interactions, and began to consider models of one-dimensional electrons constrained to move only along a line. He proposed that their behavior was similar to that of a liquid but qualitatively different from that theorized by Soviet physicist and Nobelist Lev Davidovich Landau. "No one took it very seriously as a physical phenomenon, because such one-dimensional systems were virtually unknown," Dr. Kohn said.

More recently, however, organic molecules with long, stringlike geometries, such as the molecule TTF-TCNQ, have been discovered, in which electrons evidence the behaviors Professor Luttinger predicted. Electrons conducting in extremely fine wires and along the edges of molecular structures also are one-dimensional, and there has been a strong renewal of interest among condensed matter theorists and superconductivity researchers in so-called Luttinger liquids, Dr. Kohn said.

Born in New York City on Dec. 2, 1923, to Paul and Sarah Luttinger, he earned the S.B. degree in 1944 and the Ph.D. in 1947, both in physics, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a research assistant in physics in the last year of his studies at MIT. He then received two consecutive appointments as a fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich from 1947 to 1949, and became a research assistant to the renowned Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who first proposed that no two electrons in an same atom could occupy the same quantum state.

Professor Luttinger was named Frank B. Jewitt Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, 1949-50, and then was appointed assistant professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin, where he taught from 1950 to 1952. He returned to the Institute of Advanced Study the following year, then went to the University of Michigan, where he was associate professor of physics from 1953 to 1957. The following year he accepted an appointment as senior postdoctoral fellow at the Ecole Normale SupÚrieure in Paris.

Professor Luttinger served two years as professor of physics at the University of Pennsylvania and in 1960 joined the Columbia faculty as professor of physics with tenure, a post he retained until his retirement in 1993. He was designated professor emeritus of physics in July 1993.

He spent his summers from 1953 into the 1970s conducting research at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., the earlier of those years with Dr. Kohn. "I think I can speak for him as well as for myself," Dr. Kohn said. "Scientifically, this was the happiest period of our lives." The collaboration produced fundamental contributions to many-body quantum theory, according toRichard Friedberg, professor of physics at Barnard College.

The Columbia physicist was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1976 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1980, and was named Guggenheim Fellow for the year 1975-76. He served as chairman of the Department of Physics at Columbia from 1977 to 1980.

He and Ms. Thomas were married in 1970 and resided in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. They were separated in 1978 and later divorced, butremained "the best of friends," Ms. Thomas said.

"You could call Quin any time of the day or night with a question about anything, art, music, politics, history, literature, the sciences, and he would know more than just the answer and he would love to tell you about it," she said. "He was more interested in life than anybody I ever knew."

In addition to Ms. Thomas, he is survived by a brother, Lionel, of Andover, N.J., a sister, Judith Florence, of Albuquerque, N.M., a daughter, Catherine Luttinger, of Manhattan, and three stepchildren: Sarah Waddell of Amagansett, N.Y., Jennifer Waddell of Cambridge, Mass., and Ralph Waddell of Shelter Island, N.Y.