I heard today of the recent death of Martin Veltman, a theorist largely responsible (with his student Gerard ‘t Hooft) for showing the renormalizability of non-abelian gauge theories, a breakthrough crucial to the Standard Model that won both of the them the 1999 Nobel Prize. For the story of this work, the best source is likely Veltman’s Nobel lecture.
My one memory of meeting Veltman in person was when he visited Stony Brook at the time that I was a postdoc there (mid 1980s). There was a party at someone’s house, and I spent part of the evening talking to him then. What most struck me was his great passion for whatever it was we were talking about. One topic I remember was the computer algebra program Schoonschip (which Wolfram acknowledges as an inspiration for Mathematica). I vaguely recall that at that time Veltman had recently ported the program to a microprocessor and he was selling copies in some form. It also seems to me that one remarkable aspect of the program was that it was written in assembly language, not compiled from a higher level language. At the time I was doing computer calculations, but of a very different kind (lattice gauge theory Monte-Carlos). Since my own interests were focused on non-perturbative calculations, I wasn’t paying much attention to Veltman’s work, although I do remember finding his Diagrammar document (written with ‘t Hooft) quite fascinating.
A comment that evening that really struck me was about students, in particular that “you give your students your life-blood!”. This seemed likely to have some reference to Veltman’s relations with his ex-student ‘t Hooft, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t quiz him on that topic.
Many years later, when I was trying to get Not Even Wrong published, I contacted Veltman and he was quite helpful. At the time he had recently published his own popular book about particle physics, Facts and Mysteries in Elementary Particles, which contained his own version of the Not Even Wrong critique:
The reader may ask why in this book string theory and supersymmetry have not been discussed. . . The fact is that this book is about physics and this implies that theoretical ideas must be supported by experimental facts. Neither supersymmetry nor string theory satisfy this criterion. They are figments of the theoretical mind. To quote Pauli, they are not even wrong. They have no place here.
That book is quite good, I strongly recommend it. May its author rest in peace.