November 11, 2008

Roy Ringo, alumnus and innovative Argonne nuclear physicist, dead at 91

Roy Ringo (Ph.D. ’41), a pioneer nuclear researcher at Argonne National Laboratory, died last Wednesday at his home in Burr Ridge, IL, due to complications from dementia. He was 91.

Ringo studied atomic physics at Argonne for 40 years before retiring three years ago. His work there helped to establish the weak nuclear force, one of the four basic forces of nature.

Born in North Dakota, Ringo moved to California at the age of five. He moved back to his home state during his teens, where he graduated from Minot State Teachers College and the University of North Dakota before moving to Chicago in the late 1930s. After receiving his doctoral degree from the U of C, he worked in the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., before returning to Illinois, where he began his work at Argonne.

The Argonne National Laboratory is well known as the first national laboratory in the United States, and Ringo became involved in the lab during its early years.

“Roy was one of the best people anywhere for working with neutrons,” said Murray Peshkin, one of Ringo’s former colleagues.

Understanding neutrons in detail, Peshkin said, was essential to validating some of the basic theories of particle physics. Peshkin and others worked with Ringo to evaluate the polarity, or electric dipole moment, of the neutron. Modern theories predict that this value should be zero, but then-contemporary laboratory techniques made it difficult to measure. Ringo helped to create new methods that improved the ability of scientists to study these properties.

Ringo’s expertise in his own field was accompanied by a wealth of knowledge in other areas.

Talking to Ringo gave “the impression he swallowed the Encyclopedia Britannica,” Peshkin said. “He was truly a lovely person.”

He is survived by two sons, a daughter, and five grandchildren.