SLAC Today logo

Remembering Hobey DeStaebler

Herbert "Hobey" DeStaebler, one of the early members of SLAC, passed away on June 13, 2008 at the age of 79. He worked with Pief Panofsky, Burton Richter, Dick Taylor and many others on the very beginnings of the laboratory, and retired from SLAC in 2003.

DeStaebler first came to Stanford in 1956 after completing his thesis work at MIT on strange particle production by cosmic rays. He joined the High Energy Physics Laboratory (HEPL), pursuing experiments using the electron beams at that laboratory. Shortly after his arrival, he became one of a small number of physicists who produced a preliminary design study for a new accelerator 50 times as long as the HEPL linac: the Stanford Linear Accelerator. From that point on, he devoted his professional life to SLAC. His calculations of the radiation that could be generated by such an accelerator and of the shielding required to make accelerator operations completely safe determined the configuration of the accelerator.

"Hobey and I arrived at HEPL at the same time," said Burton Richter. "I got to know him when we worked together on an experiment as post-docs and found him to be a terrific partner. All of us at the lab came to know that if Destaebler said it was so, it was so."

After the SLAC project was funded, DeStaebler's attention turned to the experimental facilities needed to exploit the new accelerator. He served as a senior physicist in the electron scattering group established by Pief Panofsky. That group performed a set of crucial experiments in the development of the "Standard Model" of particle physics: which amongst other things demonstrated the physical existence of particles inside the proton (later identified as quarks). DeStaebler made many major contributions to the scattering programs, including work on positron sources—giving SLAC a positron beam that was more intense than the electron beams at other accelerators. The intense positron beams were used in the scattering experiments and were important to the positron-electron colliders at SLAC that were so successful in later years.

"Hobey was perhaps the most capable physicist in the SLAC Electron Scattering group during the inelastic scattering experiments (that were later honored with a Nobel Prize)," said Dick Taylor. "He was the expert on the electron beams but also looked in detail at most features of the experiment. Hobey's attitude embodied the motto of my alma mater, which translates to 'Whatsoever things are true;' He studied, analyzed and calculated to be sure that our conclusions were as close as we could get to 'true.'"

"Hobey made a real difference in bringing together the beams and spectrometers for End Station A in the late 60's," Martin Breidenbach added. "His efforts were critical to the deep inelastic scattering experiments that put SLAC on the map."

In addition to his contributions to the physics programs, DeStaebler was always an important resource for the laboratory. He was active in the radiation safety program at the lab and also especially helpful with the safety challenges that arose in connection with non-standard pieces of hazardous equipment. DeStaebler's insight and calculations were important because of the unique nature of the equipment. His ability to analyze and calculate risk, combined with his good sense, kept SLAC employees safe.

In the years following the scattering experiments, DeStaebler continued to play a unique role in the experimental program at SLAC—with the DELCO detector at PEP, building a new more powerful positron converter, and as a member of the Mark II Collaboration at the Stanford Linear Collider. Hobey was critical to the design of the interaction beamlines for these experiments and particularly adept at calculating and mitigating the beam-related and physics backgrounds. He was also critical to the success of the design, construction, commissioning and upgrades of the SLAC B Factory, especially the interaction region. There was not a background process that Hobey did not personally calculate to ensure that the design was robust.

“One always had a great sense of security knowing that a design or a calculation passed Hobey’s incisive critique,” said Jonathan Dorfan.

For half a century, DeStaebler was an important figure at SLAC—his quiet manner and dedication to "getting it right" served the laboratory well.

Hobey DeStaebler is survived by his wife of 41 years, Margaret, sons Jim and Peter, and brother Stephen.

—SLAC Today, June 27, 2008