MIT Physics News Spotlight

Professor of Physics Emeritus Michel Baranger (1927-2014)

by Margaret Anderson, Anne Baranger and Harold Baranger
October 21, 2014

Michel Baranger
Michel Baranger

Michel Baranger died on October 1, 2014, at the age of 87, after a short illness, surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

The second of eight children, Baranger was a native of Le Mans, France. He graduated from the École Normale Supérieur in Paris in 1949, and earned a PhD in Physics from Cornell University in 1951. There he met and married fellow graduate student Elizabeth Urey. The young couple moved soon afterwards to the California Institute of Technology for post-graduate research in physics.

Baranger next took up a position in the Physics Department at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh (1955-69). In 1969, he accepted a position at MIT as a Professor of Physics, where he was known as a devoted teacher and meticulous researcher. Baranger maintained an ongoing research affiliation in France with the Institut de Physique Nucléaire at Orsay. After his retirement from MIT in 1997, he was affiliated with the New England Complex Systems Institute and had an adjunct appointment at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Michel Baranger’s research career in physics began with his thesis work in quantum electro-dynamics, an important calculation of contributions to the Lamb Shift, with mentors Hans Bethe and Richard Feynman. His research in the late fifties and sixties in plasma spectroscopy and nuclear collective motion had particular impact. More recently, Baranger had worked in the areas of semi-classical quantum chaos and speciation as a complex system.

In California, friends introduced Baranger to hiking and backpacking, and he developed a great love for the outdoors. He hiked and backpacked most summers in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, and in the Alps, Alaska, the Himalayas, and the Andes.

Baranger leaves behind his children Martin, Harold (Meg Anderson) and Anne (John Hartwig) and four grandchildren, as well as former wives Elizabeth Urey Baranger, Anne Gerard and Mary Lee Baranger. A memorial service for family and friends will be held in Tucson, AZ, on December 13, 2014; please contact the family for specific information at Reminiscences may be shared at