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Tini Veltman, a friend of the DFT and IFT

07/01/2021

Tini Veltman, a friend of the DFT and IFT

By comunicacion / Enero 7, 2021

With great sadness we learned of the death on the 4th of January 2021of Martinus Justinus Godefriedus Veltman, known to many as Tini Veltman.

Tini was a great theoretical physicist, whose work played an essential role in the establishment of the Standard Model as the main pillar inour understanding of elementary particles and their interactions. Thisis well known, and for this work he was awarded the 1999 Nobel prizein Physics together with his former student Gerardus 't Hooft. What is not so well known is the strong ties that Prof. Veltman had with Universidad Autonoma de Madrid during several years of his life. Many of us had the pleasure of discussing, talking and dining with him during his yearly visits to the Department of Theoretical Physics at our University. This was possible since Francisco José Ynduraín, Paco, the founder of the Department, convinced Tini that a recurrent stay in Madrid could be fruitful both from the scientific and human aspects. At that time Prof. Veltman held the prestigious MacArthur chair at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. This materialized in 1988 by sharing hisAmerican chair with a part-time position ofextraordinary professor of the so-called  Propio program of the Spanish Ministry of Education. In this way, Veltman used to come to our Department for around a couple of months per year and participated in doctoral courses, and workshops held or organized by our department. He also wrote several papers in collaboration with Paco Ynduraín, with whom he had developed a solid friendship. I had been a front line witness of this process since Tini's first visit, and had the chance to talk with him about all kinds of things, scientific or not, in front of a blackboard or a glass of wine. Tini had an extraordinary and very strong character. He spoke his mind with honesty and had little appreciation of conventionalism or diplomacy. This made him an uncomfortable presence in some committees and panels. He also had a nice but sometimes harsh sense of humour. I remember his funny descriptions of the human landscape to be found in the neighbourhood of the Residencia de Estudiantes, where he used to stay and which he loved. In his visits to Spain he always brought with him his computer which had a transparent cover where the chips and components could be seen through, to avoid problems at the airport. His computer had ROM chips with hisprogram Schoonship burnt in. This had been the result of one of his visionary ideas: the necessity of using computers to do complicated analytical calculations. Schoonschip was the first of its kind, much before others like Mathematica, Maple, Matlab, Reduce, Maxima, etc had been thought of. Complying with his character, scientifically Prof. Veltman had very strong views, some of which were unconventional. Indeed, this was the case when he was convinced of the necessity of describing particle interactions by quantum field theory. For years he pursued this roadway involving his students in it. That was the case of Gerardus 't Hooft with whom he developed the crucial steps to make the just born electroweak quantum theory mathematically  consistent. His strong views extended to some other aspects like perturbation theory, the Higgs boson or the cosmological constant. Some of his papers on these subjects were seminal.

Unfortunately, his professorship at UAM ended in 1996 when he became 65, three years short of the time when he was awarded the Nobel prize. Still he continued visiting us and participating in events like Paco's 60th anniversary workshop, his own Nobel price celebration at ourpremises, the  Paco Yndurain Colloquium series or the Inaugurationworkshop of the IFT building. Tini was always very positive about our Institute and used his prestige to support us when requested. In summary, he loved coming to Spain and enjoyed both the scientific and human exchanges with us. With his death we have lost a friend as well as a unique and irreplaceable figure.

Antonio Gonzalez Arroyo

IFT member and Catedrático de Física Teórica at DFT


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