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UT Dallas Remembers Founding Faculty Member Wolfgang Rindler
Feb. 11, 2019
Dr. Wolfgang Rindler
Dr. Wolfgang Rindler, a professor emeritus of physics and one of the founding faculty members of The University of Texas at Dallas, died Feb. 8 at the age of 94.
In a career that spanned more than 60 years, Rindler was one of the most prominent experts in theoretical relativistic cosmology and general relativity, areas of research that deal with the origin, evolution and structure of the universe. He was instrumental not only in the founding of the Department of Physics at UT Dallas, but also in the rise of scientific research at the University.
Cosmology is the study of the universe on the largest possible scale. In his work in relativistic cosmology, Rindler applied Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity to the motion of the entire universe. Early in his career, Rindler examined the concept of a “horizon” in cosmology, which in a 1956 paper he described as “a frontier between things observable and things unobservable.” In that article, he also coined the term “event horizon” to describe a boundary beyond which — due to the nature of space, time and the speed of light — events would be forever outside an observer’s view.
Rindler was born in Vienna on May 18, 1924. In 1938, his mother sent him to England through the auspices of the Kindertransport rescue of Jewish children from Germany and Austria. He earned both his undergraduate and master’s degrees in mathematics at the University of Liverpool and his doctoral degree in mathematics, focusing on relativity, from Imperial College London. From 1956 to 1963, he taught at Cornell University.
UT Dallas President Richard C. Benson (left) meets with Dr. Wolfgang Rindler after the State of the University address in 2016.
In 1963 Rindler’s friend and fellow theorist Ivor Robinson was a founding member of the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest, the private research organization that in 1969 became UT Dallas. As head of the Division of Mathematics and Mathematical Physics, Robinson, who died in 2016, was recruiting distinguished experts in the fields of mathematics, relativity theory and cosmology to join him at the fledgling research institute. After Robinson offered Rindler a position at the center, Rindler left Cornell to be part of the exciting new venture, arriving in Dallas in September 1963.
One of the signal events in the young research institute’s activities was the holding of a research conference on relativistic astrophysics. The conference was conceived of and organized by Robinson, Rindler and colleagues, and was held in Dallas in the weeks immediately after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The conference was a seminal event in this emerging field and has been repeated every two years at locations around the globe under the title the “Texas Symposium.” In 2013 Rindler was one of the organizers of that year’s meeting of the Texas Symposium in Dallas on the 50th anniversary of the first.
“Wolfgang Rindler epitomized what each of us aspires to be as a friend and colleague: elegant and polite, erudite and sophisticated, and yet warm and approachable. A dedicated and highly praised teacher, Wolfgang was a hero of science in an age of heroes, one of that band of pioneers who discovered the full implications of Einstein’s relativity revolution.”
“Wolfgang was a good friend and a kind colleague,” said Dr. Mustapha Ishak-Boushaki, professor of physics and head of the cosmology research group at UT Dallas. “His legacy in the area of general relativity and cosmology includes key clarifications to the notion of horizons in cosmology and relativity, as well as the introduction of Rindler coordinates that gave another perspective on flat Minkowski spacetime. His work was very influential and gained him worldwide recognition in the whole area of relativity. Wolfgang’s brilliance and kindness will be very greatly missed.”
Rindler developed a coordinate system, associated with the Rindler metric, to describe the characteristics of spacetime felt by an observer who is in an accelerating reference frame. This important advancement in physics even appeared in an episode of the popular television show “The Big Bang Theory,” where the term “Rindler observer” can be seen written on a whiteboard in the apartment of fictional theoretical physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper.
In Memoriam of Dr. Rindler
A ceremony of remembrance and celebration for Dr. Wolfgang Rindler will take place 1 p.m. Saturday, March 2, in the Jonsson Performance Hall.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be directed to the Wolfgang Rindler Memorial Fund at UT Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road, SPN 10, Richardson, TX 75080.
“Professor Rindler was a dedicated scholar who personified the spirit of UT Dallas through his devotion to his students, his pursuit of knowledge, and his collegiality and warmth,” said Dr. Richard C. Benson, UT Dallas president and the Eugene McDermott Distinguished University Chair of Leadership. “Our campus and our community are fortunate and proud to have grown alongside such a distinguished scientist and educator.”
Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at UT Dallas and the Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor, said: “Veiled by Wolfgang’s modesty was an unrelentingly inquisitive mind, an infectious sense of wonder and an inner nobility. He shared with equal enthusiasm and insights his delight in life’s small pleasures as well as the grandeur of the universe. Wolfgang elevated the thoughts and spirits of all of us with the good fortune to know him.”
Dr. Wolfgang Rindler takes the roll for a class on the Texas Association for Graduate Education and Research Television Instructional Network on Sept. 5, 1967.
According to Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, UT Dallas executive vice president, professor of physics and former provost, “Wolfgang Rindler epitomized what each of us aspires to be as a friend and colleague: elegant and polite, erudite and sophisticated, and yet warm and approachable.
“A dedicated and highly praised teacher, Wolfgang was a hero of science in an age of heroes, one of that band of pioneers who discovered the full implications of Einstein’s relativity revolution. Yet, he wore his intelligence and distinction with the urbane modesty of what we colonialists imagine to be the defining mark of a British aristocrat. Little could his late-life friends comprehend that this colleague, who personified what we aspire that UT Dallas become and remain, had reached this distinction by way of a miraculous journey through the darkest tragedies of the 20th century.”
Rindler is survived by his wife, Linda; son Eric and his wife, Missy; daughter Cynthia; son Mitchell and his wife, Julie; and grandchildren Andrew, Alyssa, Ben and Jacob.