In Memoriam: Werner Israel (1931-2022)
Revered as Canada’s foremost gravitational physicist, Israel was a key figure in the founding years of CIFAR
CIFAR mourns the loss of world-renowned physicist, Professor Werner Israel, who passed away on May 18, 2022, at the age of 90.
Israel was a founding and central member of CIFAR’s Cosmology & Gravity program (now known as Gravity & the Extreme Universe) in the 1980s. He was a distinguished figure in his field, contributing to the areas of relativity, gravitation, and cosmology.
As a professor at the University of Alberta, he was particularly known for his study of black hole physics, relativistic thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, and to the dynamics and structure of high concentrations of matter, such as cosmic strings and the walls of the false vacuum bubbles that form in inflationary theories of cosmology. Israel and his students used Einstein’s theory to unravel the physical conditions inside black holes and the nature of their singularities.
He also co-edited two publications on gravitational physics with internationally celebrated physicist, Stephen Hawking. In 1992, Hawking visited Canada to pay tribute to his colleague at a cosmology conference organized by Don Page, Fellow in the Cosmology program.
“Perhaps the greatest contribution cosmology can make is to inspire young people — let them see the challenge and excitement of doing science,” said Israel at the conference.
Israel’s pioneering work studying black holes would not only turn the University of Alberta into an institutional hub for this research area, it also helped shape CIFAR’s Earth and space programming into what it is today.
“Werner made many landmark contributions to astrophysics, specifically around the origin of the cosmos and its evolution. He was a long-standing Fellow in CIFAR’s cosmology program, now called Gravity and the Extreme Universe. For his numerous contributions to science and to CIFAR, he was named a CIFAR Distinguished Fellow in 2002,” said Dr. Alan Bernstein, President & CEO of CIFAR.
“He was a pioneer, and leaves an indelible legacy within the science community and within CIFAR. We offer our heartfelt condolences to Werner’s family and his many friends and colleagues within the astrophysics community,” he added.
Among his many honours and awards, Israel was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Fellow of Royal Society of London, and Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1984, he was honoured with the Killam Memorial Prize, which is given to five eminent Canadian scholars each year for their outstanding contributions to science.
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CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.