Remembering Gerald Abrams, physicist who helped discover the J/psi subatomic particle

At the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley, Abrams worked with the distinguished physicists George Trilling and Gerson Goldhaber.

Gerry Abrams. Courtesy: The Abrams family

Gerald Stanley Abrams died in his Berkeley home on March 31, 2020. The cause was metastasized lung cancer. 

He was born on May 30, 1941, in the Bronx, New York City. His parents were Richard Abrams, a mail carrier and Claire Abrams, who worked in the New York City Parking Bureau. His brother Lloyd later became a chemist for the DuPont Company.

Gerry attended New York public schools, including the Bronx High School of Science. He was able to get a four-year Regents’ Scholarship to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He loved Cornell, a beautiful rural campus that was quite a contrast to the Bronx. He joined a fraternity, Alpha Chi Sigma, and became a physics major.

He did his graduate work at University of Maryland in College Park. He specialized in particle physics and studied with Professor George Snow. He analyzed the data from experiments at the bubble chamber at Brookhaven National Laboratory. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1967, he accepted a post doc position at University of Illinois.

He spent two years in Urbana and was then offered a position at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley, known then as the Rad Lab and now as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. There he worked with the distinguished physicists George Trilling and Gerson Goldhaber. This group worked in conjunction with particle physicists at Stanford at the Linear Accelerator Center in Palo Alto. It was an exciting time in particle physics that culminated in the discovery of a fascinating new particle called the “J/psi.”

It was actually announced on the same day by both the SLAC group and a group at Brookhaven that had simultaneously found it. 

Gerry married a Californian, Christine Chambers, in 1963. The couple had a son and daughter before divorcing in 1976. Later Gerry married Suzannah Clemens and helped raise her daughters, Maria and Sarah. Suzannah died in 2005, around the time that Gerry retired from his physics career. Later he and his companion, Nancy White, traveled to Africa, Asia, and Europe, among other destinations. At the time of his death Gerry lived with his son, Daniel, who became his caretaker. 

Gerry’s interests included leftist politics, basketball, and playing the banjo. He liked to work on home projects. 

His survivors include his brother, Lloyd; son, Daniel; daughter, Katherine; stepdaughter, Maria; and two nieces, Betsy and Laura. He is also survived by five grandsons — Andrew, Aiden, and Alex Abrams and Dourado Lytle. Donations to the ACLU are welcomed.