University of Texas
Roy Frederick Schwitters
(June 20, 1944–January 10, 2023)



Roy F. Schwitters

(June 20, 1944-January 20, 2023)



Roy Frederick Schwitters was born June 20, 1944, in Seattle, WA to Walter Frederick and Margaret Louise Boyer Schwitters. His father was born in Nebraska and his mother North Dakota. His parents had met in Eastern Washington. His father was in the Navy at Pasco and his mother worked at Hanford. After WWII, they settled in Seattle where they both worked.

Roy attended public schools in Seattle. He graduated from Franklin High School in 1962. He remembers exceptionally good math teachers in junior high and high school. He attended MIT, earning a BS in 1966 and a PhD in 1971. His dissertation was entitled, "Pi Plus Meson Photoproduction from H with Linearly Polarized Photons at 12 GeV.". The work was done at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. (SLAC)/

He married Karen E. Chrystal on June 18, 1965, in King, Washington. Karen was born in Colfax, Washington. Their children include Marc, the oldest son, born in 1971, married to Celeste with two boys, Evan and Bennett.  They live on Hilton Head Island, SC.  Their daughter, Anne, was born in 1974, right at the time of the psi particle discovery.  She is married to Christopher Smith, they have two children, Alden and Eugenie, and live in Scarborough, ME.  Adam was born in 1979, soon after the family moved to Winchester, MA to take up his position at Harvard.  

Ray was Research Associate at SLAC from 1971-74, an assistant professor from 1974-1977, and an associate professor from 1977-1979. In 1979, he was appointed Professor at Harvard University where he remained until 1990 when he became the S.W. Richardson Foundation Regental Professor of Physics at the University of Texas at Austin. From its founding in 1989 until canceled by Congress in 1993, Roy was director of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) laboratory in Dallas, TX. Roy served as Chair of the UT Physics Department from 2001 until 2005.

Dr. Schwitters has been involved with research in high energy physics and related developments in particle detectors and accelerators for over twenty years. From 1980 until his appointment as SSC laboratory director, Dr. Schwitters was co-spokesman and head of construction for the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) in Batavia, IL. From 1978 to 1989, he was Associate Editor of Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science,: from 1980 to 1983, he was Divisional Associate Editor for Particles and Fields of Physical Review Letters.

In 2003, Roy luanched the Maya Muon Research Project. The UT physics department group under Prof. Roy Schwitters developed detectors and data analysis tools, based on techniques of experimental high‐energy physics, to image interiors of large underground structures using naturally occurring cosmic ray muons. This approach to imaging—called muon tomography—was pioneered in the 1960s by Luis Alvarez to study one of the great pyramids of Giza (Luis Alvarez, et al, Science 167, 832‐839 (1970)). Detector technology and analysis techniques have improved greatly since then. The group worked with the UT Mesoamerican Archaeological Research Laboratory to image an unexplored Maya pyramid at their La Milpa research site in Belize. Two UT muon detectors were sent to Belize in May 2013. Preliminary imaging data were taken then; a major imaging effort is taking place this year. A talk at ICES in February 2008 provides details of the project: Imaging Maya Pyramids and Other Large Things with Cosmic Ray Muons

Roy retired in 2020.

Roy died of cancer on Orca Island, Washington on January 10, 2023.

Among his many professional activities are:

His awards and honors include:

Roy Schwitters Obituary, Distinguished Professor Of Physics At Harvard Has Died – Death

January 17, 2023 Online Obituary

Roy Schwitters Obituary, Death – Famous physics professor Roy F. Schwitters, who had previously held positions at Harvard, Stanford, and ultimately the University of Texas at Austin, died of cancer on January 10. Roy was raised in Seattle, and one of his earliest memories is seeing the Boeing B52 fly by his school. This experience ignited Roy’s interest in science and technology. Before flying his first flight, he had to wait until he moved away to pursue physics at MIT.

He was influenced by the famous Harold “Doc” Edgerton there, who used physics to develop deep-sea photography and sonar as well as the detonation mechanism for the hydrogen bomb. Roy was fascinated by Edgerton’s job in national security as well as his sense of adventure. Roy worked as a mountain guide on Mount Rainier during the summers. In the town of Paradise, which is situated on a mountainside, he first met Karen Chrystal, the woman who would become his wife.

Roy developed an interest in the emerging field of particle physics. He took part in the early development of particle colliders, particularly at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. In the end, that experience led to his appointment as the director of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), America’s endeavor to construct the biggest particle accelerator in the world. Congress cut off funding for the project in 1993 after spending two billion dollars on it, leaving it to its European counterpart, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, which went on to produce important discoveries (including the discovery of the Higgs boson particle).

That was Roy’s biggest failure as a professional. He is credited with calling the cancellation “the C kids’ retribution.” But he also thought that the end of the Cold War had damaged the effort. We have lost “our existential rival, the Soviet Union,” he said. He believed that the strength of a nation could be measured by its intellectual prowess and that America had passed the high-energy physics stage. Roy still intended to use the SSC to uncover some secrets.

Roy didn’t have a sour attitude. He was a friendly and joyful man who enjoyed teaching. He was granted the chance to work with JASON in 1996, a renowned group of academics made up primarily of theoretical physicists but also including oceanographers, computer scientists, chemists, and biologists. Eleven Nobel laureates have served as members of the association. Finding answers to complex issues is their responsibility. Typically, these issues relate to national security, notably nuclear weapons, but they can also involve alternative energy sources and climate change.

According to Roy, “I considered it, simply, a lease on life for me” because of the incredible individuals I was working with, their intellectual fortitude, and the importance of the challenges we solved. He presided over JASON between 2005 and 2011. During that time, JASON published several papers on a variety of subjects, such as cyber security, the effect of wind farms on radar, and the use of microorganisms for energy production. The effectiveness of monitoring greenhouse gas emissions was also assessed, and it advised the US government against creating a new generation of nuclear weapons

. The government departments usually lay out a menu of problems and allow the participants choose the ones they wish to work on in an unprecedented partnership between the federal government and some of America’s greatest scientists. Roy oversaw the University of Texas’ Maya Muon Tomography project, which used cosmic rays to photograph the inside of a Mayan temple in Belize. He was getting ready to write a book about that trip when he went away from cancer in his cherished Orcas Island home, where he and Karen had retired. Roy Schwitters had a purposeful and thrilling 78 years. His life is still surrounded by his wife of 57 years, Karen, his sister Elizabeth Rodriguez, his three children, Marc, Anne Smith, and Adam, as well as five grandchildren.

Roy Schwitters Obituary from Physics Today, April 2023 by Michael Riordan, U. of California at Santa Cruz.

Roy Frederick Schwitters, who served as director of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) project in Texas, died of cancer at his home on Orcas Island, Washington, on 10 January 2023.
An eloquent and dynamic physicist who played a major role in the 1974 discovery of the ψ particle at SLAC and subsequently led construction of the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF), Schwitters was selected to direct the SSC project in 1989. He led that increasingly contentious project until October 1993, when it was canceled by the US Congress.

Born on 20 June 1944 in Seattle and raised there, Schwitters developed an intense interest in physics during his undergraduate years at MIT, receiving his BS in 1966. He continued working in the laboratory of Louis Osborne, under whom he did his dissertation research on pion photoproduction and earned his PhD in 1971. His principal contribution to his thesis experiment (conducted at SLAC) was the development of a precision diamond target to produce polarized photons when struck by high-energy electrons.

That experiment brought Schwitters to the attention of Burton Richter, who hired him as a postdoctoral researcher on the SPEAR electron–positron collider then under construction at SLAC. In the process of working on the design and implementation of the SLAC–LBL (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory) solenoidal magnetic detector, he determined how to surround the interaction point with cylindrical wire spark chambers to measure tracks of charged particles emanating from electron–positron collisions.

During the data analysis of a 1974 experiment on the collider and detector, Schwitters recognized that two runs at 3.1 GeV were far out of line, with cross sections that were 5–7 standard deviations higher than in other runs at that energy. He and others convinced Richter to remeasure that energy region in greater detail during a November weekend and discovered an extremely narrow resonance at 3.105 GeV that they dubbed the ψ particle—soon identified as a charm–anticharm quark pair. That surprise discovery was “easily the most thrilling event of our scientific lives,” recalled Schwitters.

After serving as an assistant professor and then associate professor of physics at SLAC, he joined Harvard University as a professor of physics in 1979, remaining in that position until 1990. During the 1980s Schwitters applied his deep understanding of collider–detector design to the CDF project, for which he led its construction and served as associate director and cospokesperson from 1980 to 1988.

In 1989 the Universities Research Association, manager of Fermilab, named Schwitters as the director designate in its successful application to become the SSC project’s management and operations contractor. Building the gargantuan, multibillion-dollar proton collider involved project-management challenges unlike any that high-energy physicists had ever encountered. Because of the political challenges of securing sufficient funding, Schwitters began spending much of his time in Washington, DC, lobbying on the project’s behalf.

After the SSC cancellation in 1993, Schwitters assumed a position full time as S. W. Richardson Regents Professor of Physics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he stayed until he retired in 2020. There he returned to experimental high-energy-physics research, focusing on B-meson physics. He also organized the Maya Muon project, which employed particle detectors sensitive to penetrating cosmic-ray muons to examine the innards of a Mayan pyramid in Belize for interior voids. In 1996 he joined JASON, a group of scientists that advises the US government on national security matters, chairing its steering committee from 2005 to 2011.

Schwitters was recognized with NSF’s prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award in 1980 and shared the 1996 W. K. H. Panofsky Prize of the American Physical Society for his contributions to experimental particle physics.

An avid mountain climber, Schwitters served as a Mount Rainier guide during summers as an MIT undergraduate. In retirement he returned to the Pacific Northwest and Orcas Island, where he had deep family roots.

Schwitters will be remembered as one of the principal figures who led high-energy physics into the collider era and pioneered the design of hermetic 4π detectors, which surround as much as possible of the solid angle around the collision point. His contributions have already had a lasting historical impact.


1996 W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics Recipient


"Gail Hanson and Roy Schwitters are honored for their separate contributions which together provided the first clear evidence that hadronic final states in e+ e- annihilation, which are largely composed of spin 0 and spin 1 particles, originate from the fragmentation of spin 1/2 quarks. Roy Schwitters used muon pair production to measure the polarization of the beams in the electron-positron storage ring SPEAR. He showed that the azimuthal distribution of high momentum hadrons in hadronic final states was the same as that observed for muon pairs, consistent with the origin of these hadrons from the fragmentation of spin 1/2 quarks."


1980 Alan T. Waterman Award, National Science Foundation


Roy F. Schwitters
Harvard University

"For his contributions to the understanding of the basic structure of matter through experiments that discovered and explored an entirely new collection of subatomic particles. The experiments led to the interpretation of the new particles as being composed of simpler constituents, possessing a new property of matter."


Schwitters Photo Album

Roy Schwitters' early science project. He commented, "Some of my rockets weren’t so great, leading to loud reports in the back yard, when my parents had to close all the blinds and turn off the lights to make it look like we weren’t home."
Roy Schwitters with plans for SSC
Roy F. Schwitters and SSC
Roy Schwitters, testifying as JASON Committe Chair along with the directors of the three US nuclear weapons labs, LANL, LLNL, and SNL, in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on nuclear modernization issues.
Roy Schwitters, 1960
Roy Schwitters, 1962

Roy F. Schwitters comments, " CDF (Collider Detector at Fermilab) project I led.  The fuzzy white markings on the catwalk at the top of the detector are the signatures of everyone who participated in CDF’s design and construction".


Roy Schwitters bottom photo, at right, Franklin High School, Seattle, WA. Barbara Lake , left and Shirley E. Boslley, Math Teacher.
Roy Schwitters and Maya Project Muon Detector
Roy Schwitters
Roy F. Schwitters