Elihu Abrahams

April 3, 1927 — Oct. 18, 2018

Elihu Abrahams, 91, a theoretical physicist specializing in condensed matter, died in Los Angeles after a brief illness.

Born in Port Henry, N.Y. to Simon M. and Mildred Mischkind Abrahams, he grew up in Manhattan, attending the Walden School and Brooklyn Tech. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, and served in the Naval ROTC, graduating with a BS in 1947 and a Ph.D. in physics in 1952.

At Berkeley, he met fellow student Geulah Greenblatt, a modern dancer. She followed him to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1953 when he joined the physics department, and they married shortly thereafter. In 1956 they moved to Princeton, N.J. when Abrahams became a professor at Rutgers University. In 1964 he became the Bernard Serin Professor of Physics and Astronomy. That same year, their son David was born, followed by son Jonathan in 1967.

In the mid-1960s Abrahams became involved with the newly established Aspen Center for Physics, and with his close friend, the late David Pines, played a central role in building its condensed matter physics program. He was president of the ACP from 1979 to 1983, the chair of its board of trustees from 1997 to 2000, and remained an active part of the Aspen physics and arts community until this year.

In 1979, Abrahams, Nobel laureate Philip W. Anderson, Donald Licciardello and T.V. Ramakrishnan published the highly influential paper “Scaling Theory of Localization: Absence of Quantum Diffusion in Two Dimensions” in Physical Review Letters 42. Often referred to as the “gang of four paper” in physics circles, the authors proposed new, precise predictions about the behavior of electrons in disordered materials. In 2003, the American Physical Society named it among the top-ten most often cited papers published in the Physical Review. As of his death, it has been cited 6,119 times.

In 2009, he moved to Los Angeles to be closer to family, joining the UCLA physics department. Abrahams was considered to be a pioneer in the theoretical foundations of disordered and interacting systems, and will be remembered by his colleagues as a generous collaborator and mentor, a “gentle giant” who never failed to ask a clarifying question or provide deep insight to a problem.

In September, he learned that he had been awarded the 2019 Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize from the American Physical Society “for pioneering research in the physics of disordered materials and hopping conductivity.”

In addition to his work as a scientist, Abrahams was passionate about music and the arts. He loved sports cars, cycling and tennis. Geulah Abrahams died in 1996. Survivors include his son David and daughter-in-law Luann of San Jose, son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Michelle of Los Angeles, and three grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the American Civil Liberties Union.