Hugh Everett

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Hugh Everett III (November 11, 1930July 19, 1982) was an American physicist who first proposed the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, which he called his "relative state" formulation. He left physics after completing his Ph.D., discouraged at the lack of response to his theories from other physicists. He then worked as a defense analyst and a consultant, becoming a multi-millionaire.

Everett was born in Maryland and raised in the Washington, D.C. area. After World War II, Everett's father was stationed in West Germany, and Hugh visited Leipzig in East Germany in 1949. He graduated from the Catholic University of America in 1953 in chemical engineering, and then received a National Science Foundation fellowship that allowed him to attend Princeton University. He started his studies at Princeton in the Mathematics Department working on the then-new field of game theory, but slowly drifted into physics. In 1953 he started taking his first physics courses, notably Introductory Quantum Mechanics with Robert Dicke.

For his second term at Princeton, starting in 1954, he moved into the Physics Department. His main course that year was Methods of Mathematical Physics with Eugene Wigner, although he stayed active in math and presented a paper on military game theory in December. He passed his general exams in the spring of 1955, thereby gaining his Master's degree, and then started work on his disertation that would (much) later make him famous. He switched thesis advisors to John Wheeler some time in 1955, completed his paper in January 1956 as The Theory of the Universal Wave Function, and eventually defended his thesis after some delay in the spring of 1957. A short article summarising his relative state interpretation appeared in Reviews of Modern Physics Vol 29 #3 454-462, (July 1957), accompanied by a supportive review by Wheeler. The physics world took little note.

Upon graduation in September 1956, Everett was invited to join the Pentagon's newly-forming Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG), run by the Institute for Defense Analyses. He was soon sent to Sandia National Laboratories to learn about nuclear weapons and became a fan of computer modelling while there. In 1957 he became director of the WSEG's Department of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. However he then had to leave work at WSEG to return to Princeton for his thesis defence. On his return he immediately re-entered research at WSEG, of which most remains classified. It is known that he worked on various studies of the Minuteman missile project, which was then starting, as well as The Distribution and Effects of Fallout in Large Nuclear Weapon Campaigns.

During March and April 1959, at Wheeler's request, Everett visited Copenhagen in order to meet with Niels Bohr, considered to be the "father of quantum mechanics". Bohr was unimpressed, and refused to take Everett's ideas very seriously. Everett was crestfallen, but while in his hotel he started work on a new idea to use Lagrange multipliers for optimization that would later lead to financial success.

In August 1964 the Defense Research Corporation (DRC) spun off the Lambda Division to apply military modelling solutions to various civilian problems. Everett left the WSEG and became the head of the new Division, along with a million dollar budget. The next year they took the division public as Lambda Corporation, a think tank that returned primarily to military research. After three years he stepped down as president in order to focus on research, as by this point the company was growing so rapidly that administration duties were interferring. In the early 1970s the defense budgets were curtailed and most money went to operational duties in the Vietnam War, leading to Lambda eventually being re-purchased by the DRC, now known as General Research Corp.

In 1973 Everett left Lambda to form DBS Corporation in Arlington, Virginia, a computer consulting firm. Much of their work appears to have been in statistical analysis. He appears to have enjoyed programming, and spent the rest of his life working at DBS. He also opened Monowave Corporation with several DBS and family friends.

In 1970 Bryce DeWitt wrote an article for Physics Today on Everett's relative-state theory. This time the physics world seemed much more interested, and a flood of letters followed. Meanwhile Bryce DeWitt, who had corresponded with Everett on the many-worlds (DeWitt's phrase) / relative state interpretation when originally published in 1957, started editing an anthology on interpretations of quantum gathered from over 500 papers. The book was published late in 1973, and it was not long before an article on Everett's work appeared in the science fiction magazine, Analog. In 1977 he was invited to give a talk at a meeting Wheeler arranged at his new location at the University of Texas in Austin, where Everett was the star of the show and continually surrounded by a throng of "groupie" students. As his fame grew, Wheeler eventually started the process of returning Everett to a physics career by setting up a new research institute in California, but nothing came of this proposal.

Everett died on July 19 1982 apparently of a heart attack at the age of only 51. His constant chain-smoking and heavy drinking likely had something to do with this, although he was outwardly healthly at the time. Currently, of the companies Everett founded, only Monowave Corporation still exists (now in Seattle) and is still run by Elaine Tsiang.

He was also the father of Mark Oliver Everett, a.k.a. E, the lead singer of the band Eels.


- a lengthy and extremely well researched biography

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