Peter Meyer, 82, physicist, teacher

March 11, 2002

View to enlarge.BY KATE N. GROSSMAN

Peter Meyer loved to stretch the boundaries of what we know about the universe. His passion for discovery took him far and wide, sweeping up those around him with his infectious spirit.

"He loved discovery," said his wife, Patricia Spear. "The possibility of learning new things about the universe excited him."

Mr. Meyer, a physicist who conducted pioneering studies on cosmic rays, died Thursday following a stroke. He was 82.

"I was always amazed at how much this man enjoyed doing his work, his physics," said Rochus Vogt, Mr. Meyer's first Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago. Mr. Meyer joined the faculty in 1953.

He was known for his ability to connect with students.

He focused much of his work on cosmic rays, the mysterious particles that rain down on Earth from outer space, affecting such things as the climate and radio reception. Mr. Meyer sent scientific instruments into the stratosphere attached to helium balloons more than 100 times, and into space aboard several satellites and a space shuttle.

"He had a great deal of technical expertise and marvelous scientific taste--he went after things that matter," said Roger Hildebrand, a colleague at the U. of C.

Mr. Meyer was born in Berlin, Germany, and received his Ph.D. at the University of Gottingen in 1948. He served on the teaching faculty there until 1950.

He and his first wife, Luise Meyer-Schutz-meister, a nuclear physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, settled in Chicago. Mr. Meyer became a full professor at the University of Chicago in 1965. Over the years, he served as chairman of the physics department and as director of the Enrico Fermi Institute.

Luise Meyer-Schutz-meister died in 1981.

Mr. Meyer won many awards and honors, including the Alexander von Humboldt Award for Senior U.S. Scientists and an award for excellence in undergraduate teaching from the U. of C. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1989.

He played the cello and also loved to travel, hike and read.

"He had a lot of joie de vivre," his wife said. "He was one of these people who were joyful, and that drew people to him."

Mr. Meyer also is survived by two sons, Stephan and Andreas Meyer, and two grandchildren.

Arrangements for a memorial service were pending.

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