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Deutsch, discoverer of positronium, dies at 85

Martin Deutsch, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist from Vienna who fled fascism, worked on the Manhattan Project and later discovered an elemental form of matter, died Aug. 16 at his home in Cambridge, Mass., at the age of 85.

The crowning achievement of Deutsch's career came in 1951 at age 34, when he measured and confirmed the existence of positronium.

Positronium is a hydrogen-like atom without a nucleus. Its life exists entirely in a "dance of death" that lasts for as little as 1/10 of a billionth of a second. The properties of positronium corroborated the quantum theory of electrodynamics for a two-particle system.

Deutsch was born Jan. 29, 1917 into the intellectual ferment of World War I, Vienna, and a home where his parents, Felix and Helene Deutsch, were both doctors. He came to the United States in 1935. The family settled in Cambridge.

Deutsch received a bachelor's degree in 1937 and the Ph.D. from MIT in 1941, completing in six years a course of study that typically takes 11.

After receiving his Ph.D., he taught and did research for two years at MIT while he underwent a security investigation to get clearance to work on the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M. He returned to MIT after the war ended in 1946.

Deutsch is survived by his wife, who retired from Massachusetts General Hospital as a supervisor of social work, and two sons, L. Peter Deutsch of Menlo Park, Calif., and Nicholas Deutsch of New York City. A memorial service will be announced at a future date.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 28, 2002.

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