Benson T. Chertok

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Benson T. Chertok
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BornMay 15, 1935
Laconia, New Hampshire
DiedSeptember 24, 1981
Washington, D. C.
CitizenshipUnited States of America
OccupationProfessor of physics

Benson T. Chertok was professor of physics at The American University in Washington, D. C., a leading researcher in the field of high energy nuclear physics, and an advocate for arms control. He was born in Laconia, New Hampshire, on May 15, 1935, and died at the age of 46 in Washington, D. C., on September 24, 1981, of cancer.


Benson T. Chertok was born the last of four children to Max and Rose Chertok, both Russian emigrants. Chertok's sister, Pearl Chertok, was an internationally regarded composer and harpist.


Chertok attended public schools in Laconia, followed by prep school at Tilton School, N. H., where he graduated as valedictorian in 1953. He ran track, served as president of the student council, and was awarded the Bausch & Lomb prize. He then enrolled at MIT and received a S. B. in chemical engineering in 1957 and a S. M. in nuclear engineering in 1960. While a student at MIT, Chertok traveled to Ghana with Operation Crossroads Africa and built schoolhouses. Upon his return, he completed a Ph.D. in nuclear physics at Boston University in 1964 as the first doctoral student of Edward Booth. Chertok's Ph.D. dissertation was entitled, "Nuclear Excitation by 1 Mev to 3 Mev Electrons,"[1]

Academics and Research

After 18 months in the Army, and discharged at rank of captain with the Commendation Medal, Chertok in 1966 became a faculty member at The American University, in Washington, D. C.. From 1964-1970, he was a guest worker at the Center for Radiation Research at the National Bureau of Standards and performed electron scattering experiments in the 100 MeV region with a grant from the Atomic Energy Commission.

In 1970, Chertok went to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) on sabbatical leave and there conceived the idea for a high energy electron scattering experiment on deuterium. His proposal, approved by a SLAC Scientific Review Board totally focused on elementary particles, led to the first of three experiments at SLAC that Chertok performed between 1974-80. He assembled a team of physicists starting with Ray Arnold (2000 Bonner prize recipient[2]), and followed by Steve Rock, Zen Szalata and Peter Bosted. Other collaborators included Fred Martin and Bernhard Mecking. Under Chertok's leadership, the team received continuous funding from the NSF starting in 1972 and continuing after his death in 1981.

The first to use high energy electron beams to study nuclear structure [3][4] , the SLAC experiments led by Chertok successfully furthered the understanding of the nuclear form factors in the region of momentum transfers where the traditional picture of nuclei made of nucleons begins to merge with the picture of nucleons made of quarks. This truly was, and is, the interface between nuclear and high energy particle physics.

In 1976, Chertok, together with Stanley Brodsky of SLAC (2007 J. J. Sakurai Prize Winner[5]), developed the theory for high momentum nuclear processes and interpreted the results of the SLAC experiments in terms of quantum chromodynamics, the fundamental theory underlying hadron and nuclear interactions. Their papers began the field of "nuclear chromodynamics" and introduced the concept of "reduced nuclear amplitudes" where quark degrees of freedom in the nucleus become manifest.

Throughout his career, Chertok was an active voice for arms control. At The American University, Chertok developed a course entitled, "Arms Control, Politics, and Science," which became one of the most popular courses offered by the physics department. He interviewed policy makers and activists on the university radio station, WAMU. Additionally, Chertok was a proponent of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and participated in the international effort to free Soviet physicist refuseniks.

In 1980, Chertok and his family moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he spent a sabbatical year working on the UA1 experiment at CERN.

Experiments at SLAC

  • E-101: Measurement of e-D Elastic Scattering in the Range 1 < Q2 < 6-GeV2

Proposed: 23 April 1973, Approved: 26 May 1973, Began: 31 Jan. 1974, Completed: 1974

  • E-121: Measurement of the Elastic Form-Factors of HE-3 and HE-4 in the Range of 0.8 <= Q2< 4 GEV2

Proposed: May 1975, Approved: 29 Jan. 1977, Began: Feb. 1977, Completed: 22 May 1977

  • E-133: Measurement of the Elastic Electron-Neutron Cross Section at High Q2

Proposed: 10 Jan. 1978, Approved: 22 March 1978, Began: Feb. 1979, Completed: April 1979

After Chertok's death, the research team he founded continued making important contributions to the field with further measurements of electron scattering on light nuclei at SLAC.

Academic Memorials

  • The Benson T. Chertok Memorial Fund Award for Academic Excellence and Undergraduate Research at The American University, started in 1981.[6]
  • The Dr. Benson T. Chertok Lectureship Fund at Boston University (annual Physics Department colloquium), started in 1984.


  1. B. T. Chertok and E. C. Booth, Nucl. Phys. 66 (1965) 230-240.
  2. "2000 Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics Recipient".
  3. "Interaction Point: Thirty Years of Quarky Nuclear Physics" (PDF). Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  4. "NYT Obituary".
  5. "SLAC Theoretical Physicist Stanley J. Brodsky Awarded Sakurai Prize".
  6. "Undergraduate Scholarships at The American University".

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