Wolfgang Kummer 1935-2007

Wolfgang Kummer, a prominent Austrian theoretical physicist and former CERN Council president (1985-1987), passed away on 15 July 2007 after a long fight with cancer. Only in its latest stages this illness could stop him from working with his students or teaching at the Technical University of Vienna, where he had obtained a doctorate in physics in 1960 and where he had become one of the youngest full professors ever in 1968, heading a newly founded second institute for theoretical physics devoted to theoretical high energy physics.

From very early on, Kummer's career was intimately connected with CERN, for which Walter Thirring had obtained him a Ford scholarship from October 1961 to March 1962. This brought him into contact with Victor Weisskopf, then Director General of CERN, and Weisskopf invited him to come back as a CERN fellow and his scientific assistant 1963-1964. In 1966, Kummer became the first director of the Institute for High Energy Physics of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, which he led till the end of 1971, parallel to his professorship at the Technical University. Simultaneously he became the Austrian delegate to the CERN Council, where he was soon elected to chair the Finance Committee, overseeing the construction of the ISR. In 1980, Kummer returned to the CERN Council as its Vice-President at the point in time when the new supercollider SPS was getting into shape, and the job was more suitably filled by a physicist than a pure diplomat. From 1985 to 1987, Kummer was president of the CERN Council, which was only briefly interrupted by the consequences of a terrorist attack at the Vienna airport on 26 December 1985, where Kummer was one of the victims, suffering from severe injuries from hand grenade splinters and shrapnel. After only 11 days in intensive care (and in rather critical condition), Kummer recovered quickly, immediately resuming his job as Council President. He even attended the annual Schladming Winter School, only two months after these events, and he skied as ever. Clearly, his regular sporting activities were crucial for his amazingly quick recovery. But Kummer was not only a sportsman in his spare time. He was a man of culture and in particular a pianist and trained tenor, which in Geneva led to regular chamber music evenings with his colleagues such as Volker Soergel and Jack Steinberger.

While Kummer had numerous academic and administrative positions, such as being first Secretary and then President of the High Energy Board of the European Physical Society from 1995-1999, he was especially responsible for building up a group of theoretical high energy physics at the Technical University of Vienna, covering a broad range of research in quantum field theory, string theory, and (mainly two-dimensional) quantum gravity. Kummer himself had contributed foundational work in quantum gauge field theory, in particular by using ghost-free noncovariant gauge fixing. Since the early 1990's Kummer has mainly worked on two-dimensional gravity, and he has been unceasingly productive much beyond his official retirement as professor for theoretical physics in 2003, not sparing himself despite the fact that his health was deteriorating sharply. Kummer also remained active as a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and chairman of the Advisory Board of the Institute for High Energy Physics (HEPHY), Vienna.

Wolfgang Kummer will be missed both as eminent physicist and by those who knew him personally as a man of sincere kindness and warmth. We mourn his loss together with his wife Lore, who was always supportive of him.

W. Majerotto, A. Rebhan, M. Regler, and W. Thirring, Vienna

(to be submitted to the CERN Courier)

Anton Rebhan
Last modified: Thu Jul 26 18:45:26 CEST 2007