The physics experiment that went wrong

When: 1949 - 1959
Family Branch: Ruby
Generation: 1G
Family Member: Stanley Ruby

Discovery Notebook

Visiting Japanese physicist summarized the Rustad-Ruby retraction shortly after it happened.
She reported on the result favoring tensor interaction weeks after the RR experimental work began.
Papers make clear that the Brookhaven experiment with Rustad was also the subject of Stan's Ph.D.…
Stan's Argonne job application contains a brief explanation of his Columbia graduate work
Stan served in the Army Specialist Training Program in the fall and winter of 1943-44
Wu's actions in the Rustad-Ruby affair are covered in her Chinese biography
Stanley Ruby is among the former students and colleagues of C. S. Wu who are quoted

I’m reading a helpful book, Story Genius, by Lisa Cron, about narrative technique that I…

Before I turn the page for good on the doppelganger Stanley Ruby, I can't resist this tidbit…

That other Stanley Ruby who later worked at the Pentagon had a life that closely mirrored Stan's.

Deeper searches for "Dr. Stanley Ruby" are returning some hits related to the Advanced Research…

Working on surface chemistry for Professor Hassialis was as close to weapons work as Stan ever got
When working in genealogy, you learn never to rule out the possibility of coincidence
Lab annual reports show Stan on staff at Brookhaven from July 1951 to June 1953
Hassialis, a Columbia professor in the School of Mines, played a key role in the Manhattan Project.
Surprise! Stan submitted a doctoral thesis on an altogether different subject
The AIP Oral History interview with science philosopher Allan Franklin
Rustad came to Columbia to work on a classified research project involving uranium isotope…
Whatever happened back then matters so much less than all the wonders that came later.
Stan Ruby was not awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Physics by Columbia University.
Open publication of scientific results is integral to the scientific process. Why was CU-173…
Rustad was also denied his Columbia doctorate in the aftermath of the experiment
Five views of the Brookhaven reactor and the Rustad-Ruby experimental setup.
Stanley L. Ruby will hold a nuclear-research fellowship at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission's…
This could have been the first time they had met since the events of 1957-58. There is no record of…
Quick experiment
  • Feb 11, 2013

Sorry to have dropped the ball on the saga of Stan's experiment. I'm working intensely on a…

The other mine of information available at my home is the rolling filing cabinet of genealogical…

Feynman wasn't joking
  • Dec 29, 2012

I managed to get seriously ill two weeks ago and had to set aside the blogging project right at…

Before I move on to the details of Stan's academic career, I realize that I overlooked…

The legend of Wu
  • Dec 11, 2012

It is time to look more closely at the famous Chien-Shiung Wu. How does a Chinese woman born in…

By the time my train arrived at Oakland's Jack London station well past midnight, late due to…

We pick up with the Amtrak San Joaquin pulling north out of Fresno and me struggling to absorb…

Allan Franklin is a physics historian and philosopher of science from the University of Colorado…

So far on this blog we have covered many aspects our family history: our father's family roots…

Story Events



Selected Image Date Publication Author(s) Title Comments
* January 16, 1934 Zeitschrift fur Physik E. Fermi Attempt at a Theory of Beta Rays

Fermi introduces theory of beta decay, including supposition of the neutrino. Translation published by Fred L. Wilson in the American Journal of Physics, Dec. 1968.

February 15, 1937 Physical Review G. Gamow and E. Teller Some Generalizations of the Beta Transformation Theory
* February 15, 1949 Physical Review James S. Allen, H. R. Paneth, and A. H. Morrish Electron-Neutrino Angular Correlation in the Beta-Decay of He6

Predecessor He-6 experiment

* October 1950 Reviews of Modern Physics Chien-Shiung Wu Recent Investigation of the Shapes of Beta-Ray Spectra

Invited paper at APS New York 1950 summarized Wu's beta-decay experimental work.

* September 15, 1952 Physical Review C. S. Wu, B. M. Rustad, V. Perez-Mendez, and L. Lidofsky The Beta-Spectrum of He6

Used Columbia spectrometer to calculate revised comparative lifetime of He6


Wu overiew of the coupling constant problem. 
Covers recalculation of He6 endpoint. 
Cites prepublication R-R work via private communication.

* February 15, 1953 Physical Review Brice M. Rustad and Stanley L. Ruby Correlation Between Electron and Recoil Nucleus in He6 Decay

First publication of Rustad-Ruby results. Together with Allen-Jentschke, seen as definitive determination of Tensor coupling in GT interactions

* March 1, 1953 Physical Review D. C. Peaslee The Fermi Term in Beta-Neutrino Correlation

Success of Rustad-Ruby for GT interactions leads to search for similar experiment for F interactions. Peaslee was in the Wu orbit at Columbia and clearly had early knowledge of the Rustad-Ruby results. His letter was submitted before RR was published. Then the Peaslee letter was published in the very next issue.

September 18, 1954 Nature Bellamy and Moorhouse Report by Bellamy and Moorhouse on Nuclear and Meson Physics International Conference in Glasgow

Report by Bellamy and Moorhouse on Nuclear and Meson Physics International Conference in Glasgow includes summary of Wu’s talk on the interaction in beta decay

* February 15, 1955 Physical Review B. M. Rustad and S. L. Ruby Gamow-Teller Interaction in the Decay of He6

The classic He-6 recoil experiment by Rustad-Ruby

* September 15, 1956 Physical Review A. Schwarzschild, B. M. Rustad, and C. S. Wu Decay of A41

Note the three authors
. Rustad remained in the fold before and after the reversal of the Rustad-Ruby experiment. Schwarzchild would later collaborate with Wu on the Critical Examination report.

* October 1, 1956 Physical Review O. C. Kistner, A. Schwarzschild, and B. M. Rustad Decay of A35

Finds that A35 is a suitable source for identifying the Fermi invariant in the beta- decay interaction by an angular correlation experiment. Later, such an experiment by Hammersfeld was a key piece of evidence in the RR reversal.

* January 16, 1957 New York Times Harold M. Schmeck, Jr. Basic Concept in Physics Is Reported Upset in Tests; Conservation of Parity Law in Nuclear Theory Challenged by Scientists at Columbia and Princeton

Big media splash by Columbia on parity violation discoveries. Page One above the fold. Franklin remembers they stopped classes for the announcement.

* February 15, 1957 Physical Review C. S. Wu, E. Ambler, R. W. Hayward, D. D. Hoppes, and R. P. Hudson Experimental Test of Parity Conservation in Beta Decay

Wu’s famous experiment that confirmed the Lee-Yang suggestion that left-right symmetry is not conserved in weak interactions. Another concurrently published experiment by Garwin and Lederman confirmed the theory in meson decays.

* April 1957 7th Annual Rochester Conference on High energy nuclear physics, VII C, N. Wang and others Weak Interactions

Wu continued to favorably cite RR three months after her parity experiment. I am uncertain if her first reference to He6 (in relation to the Coulomb part) is about RR.

* June 15, 1957 Physical Review E. AMBLER, R. W. HAYWARD, D. D. HOPPE, R. P. HUDSON, AND C. S. WU Further Experiments on β Decay of Polarized Nuclei

These results were reported at the New York Meeting of the American Physical Society of February 2, 1957 (C. S. Wu, post-deadline paper).
Positive R-R citation

* July 15, 1957 Physical Review Letters W. B. Herrmannsfeldt, D. R. Maxson, P. Stahelin, and J. S. Allen Electron-Neutrino Angular Correlation in the Positron Decay of Argon35

The first experiment with contadictory results from He-6
. Paper cites Kistner-Schwarzschild-Rustad paper on suitability of A35 for correlation experiment. Received 5/28/57.

* September 1957 Proceedings of the Rehovot Conference on Nuclear Structure E. J. Konopinski Theory of the Classical Beta-Decay Measurements

Beta decay theorist E.J. Konopinski frames the experimental conundrum.

September 22, 1957 Proc. of the Conference on Mesons and Newly-Discovered Particles, Padua-Venice E. C. G. Sudarshan and R. E. Marshak The Nature of the Four-Fermion Interaction

Marshak gives Sudarshan’s experimental review at Padua conference, calling for the He6 experiment to be redone. This paper is the basis for Sudarshan and Marshak's claim of priority over Feynman and Gell-Mann for the V–A theory.

* December 11, 1957 Physical Review M. Goldhaber, L. Grodzins, and A. W. Sunyar Helicity of Neutrinos

More experimental support for VA; He6 is an outlier.

* January 1, 1958 Physical Review R. P. Feynman and M. Gell-Mann Theory of the Fermi Interaction

Feynman calls for He6 experiment to be reviewed
Classic VA paper beat Marshak-Sudarshan to publication.

* January 1, 1958 Proceedings of the Rehovot Conference on Nuclear Structure Harry J.Lipkin POST-CONFERENCE SUMMARY OF RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN BETA-DECAY

Lipkin's Editor's Note added in proof describes the yet-unpublished Brookhaven experiment on helicity of neutrinos. 

* January 28, 1958 American Physical Society meeting B. M. Rustad and S. L. Ruby Post-deadline paper by Rustad and Ruby

Text and abstract not recorded. 
Franklin summarizes as “mea culpa”
. Other papers cite as acknowledgement of error. Image is not from the Rustad-Ruby session.

* March 1, 1958 Physical Review E. C. G. Sudarshan and R. E. Marshak Chirality Invariance and the Universal Fermi Interaction

Sudarshan-Marshak cite private communication with Wu

* April 21, 1958 Unpublished C. S. Wu and A. Schwarzschild A Critical Examination of the He6 Recoil Experiment of Rustad and Ruby

Wu repudiates Rustad-Ruby experiment in unpublished CU-173 Columbia University report. Franklin says letter from Wu to Cavanaugh suggests reexamination was done in November.

* July 15, 1958 Physical Review Letters W. B. Herrmannsfeldt, R. L. Burman, P. Stahelin, J. S. Allen, and T. H. Braid Determination of the Gamow-Teller Beta-Decay Interaction From the Decay of Helium-6

Experiment of He6 decay by Illinois team cites Rustad-Ruby He6 half-life calculation while reaching contradictory result.

* December 15, 1963 Physical Review Joseph B. Vise and Brice M. Rustad Electron-Neutrino Angular Correlation in the Decay of He6

Complete redo by Rustad and Joseph Vise in 1963.


Rustad's posthumous final publication.

* 1985 Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman Richard P. Feynman The 7 Percent Solution

pp. 226-234. 
Feynman’s aha moment was when he saw the figure in Rustad-Ruby

* 1989 Biographical Memoirs Herbert L. Anderson John Ray Dunning 1907-1975

Dunning was the driving force in Columbia's nuclear research program. Anderson recalls the events around the early nuclear fission and uranium enrichment projects at Columbia. A highlight is the full text of Dunning's letter to Alfred Nier requesting U235 sample for testing (important to us because this connection is what brought Rustad to Columbia).

* 1990 Allan Franklin Experiment Right or Wrong

The first half of the book recounts the history of theory and experiments about beta decay and the weak interaction, including detailed analysis of the Rustad-Ruby experimental error.

* July 25, 1992 Current Science R. E. Marshak The Pain and Joy of a Major Scientific Discovery

Extensive excerpts are published because of their relevance to Rustad-Ruby experiment. Marshak reports that Wu remains strongly supportive of RR three months after her parity experiment.

* 1996 Monographs and Texts in Physics and Astronomy C.S. Wu and S.A. Moszkowski Beta Decay

Wu's readable textbook about Beta Decay includes a historical review, including a more distant review of the He6 events

* 1999 Robert P. Crease Making Physics: A Biography of Brookhaven National Laboratory, 1946-1972

The author appears to be confused about Wu's comments at Rochester. She described her own unpublished helicity work, not new work by Rustad-Ruby. The Goldhaber anecdote leads in to a description of his neutrino helicity experiment, performed in November 1957, which further discredited the RR experiment.

* March 1, 2001 Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Leon Lidofsky CHIEN-SHIUNG WU 29 May 1912-16 February 1997

Lidofsky's appreciation of Wu's career does not address the Rustad-Ruby affair, but is nonetheless illuminating.

* 2014 Chiang Tsai-Chien and Wong Tang-Fong, translator Madame Wu Chien-Shiung The First Lady of Physics Research

Originally published in Chinese in 1996. Stan Ruby was interviewed and is cited as a source. Wu's involvement in the Rustad-Ruby affair is documented.

* December 13, 2021 Washington Post Style Jada Yuan Discovering Dr. Wu

Article by Wu's granddaughter about her own journey of discovery about her famous relative.