Charles W. Misner, an eminent theorist and co-author of the classic textbook Gravitation, died on July 24, 2023. He was 91.
Misner received a bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame before his doctoral studies at Princeton University with John Archibald Wheeler. Following conferral of his Ph.D. in 1957, he remained at Princeton. A Sloan Fellowship enabled him to study at Niels Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen, and while there, he met and fell in love with Susanne Kemp, a friend of the Bohr family. John S. Toll, also in Denmark that spring, greeted the couple as they emerged from their wedding at the Copenhagen cathedral to convince them to move to UMD. Toll's powers of persuasion prevailed, and Misner served on the Maryland faculty from 1963 until his 2000 retirement.
Misner enjoyed a distinguished career in general relativity, devising with Richard Arnowitt and Stanley Deser the ADM formalism, which earned them the American Physical Society Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics in 1994, and was commended by the Albert Einstein Society with its Einstein Medal in 2015. Misner was an elected Fellowand was an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Astronomical Society.
He is also well-known as the co-author, with Wheeler and Nobel laureate Kip Thorne, of the acclaimed 1973 textbook, Gravitation. The authoritative opus, known universally as MTW, was so comprehensive and unique in its vivid pedagogical style that it has remained a valued resource despite subsequent developments, and was republished in 2017. Earlier this year, the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation (ISGRG) celebrated the book’s 50th anniversary with an online forum; the milestone was also marked in Physics Today.
Following LIGO’s confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, Misner contributed to UMD's popular Nov. 1, 2016 symposium, A Celebration of Gravitational Waves. When Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish received the 2017 Nobel Prize for LIGO, Misner was quoted in Nature 's writeup. His student Richard Isaacson (Ph.D., 1967), was noted as an "unsung hero" of LIGO, along with former UMD physicist Joe Weber and Alessandra Buonanno, in a separate article in Nature.
In 2018, Susanne Misner spotted a New York Times story announcing that a signed copy of Stephen Hawking's doctoral thesis had sold for $760,000. The Misners authorized the sale of their Hawking correspondence, yielding $260,000 to benefit the Joseph Weber Fund for Gravitational Physics.
More recently, the Misner family established the Charles W. Misner Endowed Lectureship in Gravitational Physics, which debuted in Fall 2022.
The Charles W. Misner Award, recognizing outstanding Ph.D. thesis work in gravitation and cosmology by a UMD graduate student, was established in his honor.
Susanne Misner died in 2019; the couple is survived by four children and five grandchildren. Please see this link for further information from the Misner family.
At the International Symposium on Directions in General Relativity, May, 1993, John Wheeler and Cécile DeWitt-Morette, in front, surround a photo of mathematician W.K. Clifford. Second row: Bei-Lok Hu, Kip Thorne, Dieter Brill, Karel Kuchař, Charles Misner, Bryce DeWitt and James W. York.
John Wheeler, Kip Thorne and Charlie Misner.
Front row: Dieter Brill, Bei-Lok Hu, Charlie Misner, Ted Jacobson. Behind them (left to right) are postdoc Jonathan Simon (now a UMD ECE/Biology Professor) and graduate students Tom Shiokawa, Alpan Raval, Greg Stevens, Stephen Ramsey, Nicholas Phillips, Steven Corley, and Gungwon Kang.
Susanne Kemp and Charles Misner at their Copenhagen wedding, June 13, 1959.
Margrethe and Niels Bohr at the Kemp-Misner wedding.
Charlie and Susanne Misner at the physics memorial for John S. Toll.
Charlie Misner at the March 2019 dedication of the Weber Garden outside the PSC.
Susanne and Charlie Misner, March 2019.
Charlie Misner, John Wheeler, John Toll and Mary Ridgell at the 2001 renaming of the physics building for John Toll.
Misner and Wheeler at the the 2001 renaming of the physics building for John Toll.
Misner as rendered by his graduate student, C. V. Vishveshwara.
Misner with his graduate student, C. V. Vishveshwara.
At the 2016 Celebration of Gravitational Waves: Jim Gates, Kip Thorne, Alessandra Buonanno, Charlie Misner, Peter Shawhan and Rai Weiss.
In 1970, John Wheeler organized a conference in honor of mathematician W.K. Clifford--who first posited that matter and energy are the same entity--at the new Jadwin Hall at Princeton U.
Participants included Wheeler, Robert Dicke, Eugene Wigner, Stephen Hawking, Brandon Carter, Cecile DeWitt, Charles Misner, Freeman Dyson, Bryce DeWitt, James York, Arthur Wightman. John Klauder, Tulio Regge, Kip Thorne, James Peebles, Bei-Lok Hu, Dieter Brill, Bill Unruh, Karel Kuchař, Jeffrey Cohen, Brandon Godfrey, Claudio (Teitelboim) Bunster, Remo Ruffini, David Sharp and Nicola Cabibbo.
At his retirement celebration, Misner enjoys remarks by Bei-Lok Hu. Also visible are Jean-Paul Richard and Michael Fisher.