Marshall Rosenbluth
Rosenbluth in 1994
Born(1927-02-05)February 5, 1927
DiedSeptember 28, 2003(2003-09-28) (aged 76)
Alma materStuyvesant High School
University of Chicago
Harvard University
Known forPlasma Physics
Rosenbluth potentials
Metropolis algorithm
Rosenbluth formula
Spouse(s)Arianna Rosenbluth
Sara Rosenbluth
Scientific career
InstitutionsGeneral Atomics
UC San Diego
Princeton University
University of Texas at Austin
Doctoral advisorEdward Teller

Marshall Nicholas Rosenbluth (5 February 1927 – 28 September 2003) was an American plasma physicist and member of the National Academy of Sciences,[1] and member of the American Philosophical Society.[2] In 1997 he was awarded the National Medal of Science for discoveries in controlled thermonuclear fusion, contributions to plasma physics, and work in computational statistical mechanics. He was also a recipient of the E.O. Lawrence Prize (1964), the Albert Einstein Award (1967), the James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics (1976), the Enrico Fermi Award (1985), and the Hannes Alfvén Prize (2002).

Key scientific contributions

During his first post-doctoral position at Stanford University (1949–1950), he derived the Rosenbluth formula, which was the basis of the analysis used by Robert Hofstadter in his Nobel prize-winning experimental investigation of electron scattering. Hofstadter refers to this in his 1961 Nobel Lecture: "This behavior can be understood in terms of the theoretical scattering law developed by M. Rosenbluth in 1950".

In 1953, Rosenbluth derived the Metropolis algorithm,[3] based on generating a Markov chain which sampled fluid configurations according to the Boltzmann distribution. This algorithm was first presented in the paper "Equation of State Calculations by Fast Computing Machines",[4] coauthored with his wife Arianna Rosenbluth (who wrote the first computer program to implement the method), Nicholas Metropolis, Augusta H. Teller and Edward Teller. This now-famous paper was cited in Computing in Science and Engineering as being among the top 10 algorithms having the "greatest influence on the development and practice of science and engineering in the 20th century."[5] He and Arianna subsequently introduced the configurational-bias Monte Carlo method for simulating polymers.[6]

By the late 1950s, Rosenbluth turned his attention to the burgeoning discipline of plasma physics and quickly laid the foundation for many avenues of research in the field, particularly the theory of plasma instabilities. Although he continued to work on plasma physics for the remainder of his career, he often made forays into other fields. For example, around 1980, he and coworkers produced a detailed analysis of the free electron laser, indicating how its spectral intensity can be optimized. He maintained a high productivity rate throughout his entire career. Indeed, only a few years before his death, Rosenbluth discovered the existence of residual flows (so-called Rosenbluth-Hinton flows), a key result for understanding turbulence in tokamaks.

Early years

Rosenbluth was born into a Jewish family[7] and graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1942.[8] He did his undergraduate study at Harvard, graduating in 1946 (B.S., Phi Beta Kappa), despite also serving in the U.S. Navy (1944–46) during this period. He received his Ph.D. in 1949 from the University of Chicago.[9] In 1950 his doctoral advisor Edward Teller,[10] who is considered the father of the hydrogen bomb, recruited Rosenbluth to work at Los Alamos.[11] Rosenbluth maintained this position until 1956. The research he conducted at Los Alamos led to the development of the H-bomb.

... Rosenbluth went to the South Pacific to prepare for the first H-bomb test. He had trouble sleeping, and was pondering the bomb design when he realised the scientists had made a calculating error that could result in a dud. The flaw was remedied by modifying the detonator, and the bomb vaporised a mile-wide island with a power 700 times greater than that of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.[12]

Additional information

Upon his retirement, he took on the responsibility of chief scientist of the Central Team for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) until 1999. Rosenbluth also served as a member of the JASON Defense Advisory Group.

Rosenbluth was affectionately known as the Pope of Plasma Physics in reference to his deep understanding of the field.[13]


  1. ^ "M. N. Rosenbluth". Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  2. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  3. ^ J.E. Gubernatis (2005). "Marshall Rosenbluth and the Metropolis Algorithm". Physics of Plasmas. 12 (5): 057303. Bibcode:2005PhPl...12e7303G. doi:10.1063/1.1887186.
  4. ^ Metropolis, N.; Rosenbluth, A.W.; Rosenbluth, M.N.; Teller, A.H.; Teller, E. (1953). "Equation of State Calculations by Fast Computing Machines". Journal of Chemical Physics. 21 (6): 1087–1092. Bibcode:1953JChPh..21.1087M. doi:10.1063/1.1699114. OSTI 4390578. S2CID 1046577.
  5. ^ I. Beichl and F. Sullivan (2000). "The Metropolis Algorithm". Computing in Science and Engineering. 2 (1): 65–69. Bibcode:2000CSE.....2a..65B. doi:10.1109/5992.814660. S2CID 42433198.
  6. ^ Rosenbluth, Marshall N.; Rosenbluth, Arianna W. (1955-02-01). "Monte Carlo Calculation of the Average Extension of Molecular Chains". The Journal of Chemical Physics. 23 (2): 356–359. Bibcode:1955JChPh..23..356R. doi:10.1063/1.1741967. ISSN 0021-9606.
  7. ^ "Jewish Physicists".
  8. ^ Larry R. Faulkner; Sue Alexander Greninger (2004-09-24). "In Memoriam - Marshall N. Rosenbluth". UT Austin. Retrieved 2007-10-31.
  9. ^ G. Segrè and B. Hoerlin, The Pope of Physics, Picador 2016, pp. 268
  10. ^ "Rosenbluth, M. N." Retrieved 2023-04-28.
  11. ^ Teller, Edward, The Work of Many People, Science, New Series, Vol. 121, No. 3139 (Feb. 25, 1955), pp. 267-275, page 271
  12. ^ Wright, Pearce (4 October 2003). "Obituary. Marshall Rosenbluth". The Guardian.
  13. ^ Kim A. McDonald, Nuclear Fusion Pioneer At UC San Diego Dies At 76 Archived 2011-03-23 at the Wayback Machine, obituary at the University of California website. Retrieved 2008-07-08.