ICTP was saddened to hear of the passing of long-time friend Elias Burstein, a condensed matter physicist who played an important role in establishing ICTP’s Condensed Matter and Statistical Physics section in the 1980s. ICTP’s Erio Tosatti, who worked with Burstein during that period, penned the following remembrance of a remarkable scientist:
Elias Burstein, a retired experimental physics professor at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), passed away peacefully on 17 June. He would have turned 100 next September.
Eli had been a very important solid state experimental physicist, working in optical properties of semiconductors (the Burstein shift), surface enhanced Raman scattering, tunneling in solids, and a rich collection of other subjects.
A uniquely generous and gifted personality, he was instrumental in talent-scouting for UPenn, working with colleagues including Bob Schrieffer, Alan Heeger, Eugenio Calabi, Michael Klein, Steven Louie, Tom Lubensky, Gene Mele, Charlie Kane, etc., as well as for the US condensed matter physics community.
Eli was also, through his great friendship with Stig Lundqvist, Franco Bassani, and other friends of ICTP, one of the key people who helped us build the Condensed Matter group at ICTP. I saw him and Lundqvist personally persuade a reluctant Abdus Salam to hire, besides consultants like myself and Mario Tosi, permanent Condensed Matter group members. The first were, I believe, Hilda Cerdeira and Yu Lu in the second half of the 1980s. At the same time, Stig Lundqvist and Eli Burstein together created the Adriatico Research Conference series, events where many future Nobel Prize-winning concepts (such as the quantum Hall effect, Scanning Tunneling Microscopy, Hi-Tc superconductivity) were debated and highlighted in advance to the benefit of the world community, including colleagues from less advantaged nations and institutions.
Eli’s former students constitute a generous family, of which even stray people like myself could become, with gratitude, adopted members. Generosity being the family trait, one of Eli’s former students, Aron Pinczuk of Argentina/US, helped us in ICTP build remarkable events and conferences until quite recently.
There never were and never will be many people around like Eli. He remains not only as a dear personal memory, but as a continuing example of proactive generosity to all of us in ICTP and outside.