Kurt Gottfried, 1929-2022

UCS co-founder

A portrait of Kurt Gottfried

Kurt Gottfried played a key role in the founding of UCS while he was a visiting professor of physics at MIT during the late 1960s, and was a member of the UCS Board of Directors until he passed in 2022. In 1999, when his close friend and colleague Henry Kendall died, Gottfried was asked to become board chair and served in that post for ten years.

UCS has been deeply engaged in nuclear arms control since its birth, and Gottfried played a lead role in establishing these efforts during the peak of the Cold War arms race. In 1969 he led the teams that produced the first UCS reports on ballistic missile defense and on multiple warhead missiles. In the 1980s, in collaboration with Richard Garwin, he produced the first UCS study on control of anti-satellite weapons, and with Hans Bethe, Henry Kendall and Garwin he conducted a series of UCS efforts that demonstrated the futility of the space-based missile defense system (“Star Wars”) proposed by the Reagan administration.

“ … We are immersed in one of the most significant revolutions in man's history. The force that drives this revolution is … relentless exploitations of scientific knowledge. There is no prospect that this revolution will subside … it will continue to transform profoundly our modes of living and dying. That many of these transformations have been immeasurably beneficial goes without saying. But, as with all revolutions, the technological revolution has released destructive forces and our society has failed to cope with them.”

Kurt Gottfried, March 4, 1969

The administration of George W. Bush engaged in distortion of scientific knowledge to an unprecedented degree in pursuing some of its policies, on climate change in particular. In 2004 Gottfried drafted a statement calling for “Restoring Scientific Integrity,” and recruited a large number of prominent scientists as signers. This drew much attention to the issue and led UCS to establish a program on scientific integrity.

Dr. Gottfried was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1929. He received his undergraduate degree at McGill University, a PhD in theoretical physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955, and was then a junior fellow at Harvard. He worked as a physics professor at Cornell University and served on the senior staff of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. He was a former chair of the Division of Particles and Fields of the American Physical Society, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations.

In addition to his work with UCS, Gottfried was also active in campaigns defending of Andrei Sakharov, Yuri Orlov, and other Soviet dissident scientists. He published widely on theoretical physics and national security issues, authoring or coauthoring Quantum Mechanics, Concepts of Particle Physics, The Fallacy of Star Wars, and Crisis Stability and Nuclear War.