Roy Rubinstein, Fermilab scientist and statesman, retires after 43 years at the lab

Roy Rubinstein

Roy Rubinstein

Not many people can claim that they’ve worked for all six Fermilab directors. Assistant Laboratory Director Roy Rubinstein is among the few who can. Now he is retiring after serving Fermilab for more than 40 years. His last day at the lab is July 1.

“Roy was one of the first people I met when I arrived at Fermilab, and his commitment to the lab, enthusiasm for life and pioneering spirit made me feel instantly at home,” said Chief Operating Officer Tim Meyer. “He has been a critical part of what makes Fermilab work and never calls attention to himself. But for everything he has done, I thank Roy.”

A graduate of the University of Cambridge, Rubinstein was making his mark on Fermilab even before joining as an employee. He contributed to the 1968 NAL Design Report, which outlined the plans for a proton synchrotron and ancillary experimental facilities at the future National Accelerator Laboratory. He did this while employed as a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

He’d arrived at Brookhaven in 1966 from Cornell University, where he was a research associate and acting assistant professor. At Brookhaven, Rubinstein studied experiments on elastic scattering of hadrons from protons at the laboratory’s Alternating Gradient Synchrotron. He investigated possible CP violation in kaon decays and studied the total cross sections of 0.4- to 22-GeV hadrons on protons, deuterons and nuclei.

In 1973 Rubinstein started at Fermilab, where he helped measure the hadron total cross sections on protons and deuterons at energies between 23 and 370 GeV. He led several experiments: He was deputy spokesperson for the backward pion-proton elastic scattering experiment; spokesperson for the large momentum transfer hadron-proton elastic scattering experiment; and co-spokesperson for the Tevatron Collider experiment on total cross sections and elastic scattering.

His contribution to high-energy physics research is substantial. He is an author of more than 50 published physics papers, nearly 20 physics conference reports, and more than 90 laboratory reports and other publications.

But it is not only as a physicist that Rubinstein excelled. His colleagues praise his skills as a diplomat. He was responsible for Fermilab’s international relations (and was known informally as the lab’s “foreign minister”) from 1980 to 2005. One of his most significant accomplishments was spearheading agreements between Fermilab and Latin American institutions in 1980. At the time, Latin America had no experimental particle physics programs. Rubinstein was instrumental in bringing Latin American scientists to Fermilab to participate in the lab’s experiments. Fermilab’s international reach has grown steadily since.

“I considered him my foreign and academic desk — in the State Department sense of the term,” said former Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Bruce Chrisman, who first met Rubinstein during former director Leon Lederman’s term. “If there was an issue with visas, for example, Roy was a big help. He always found a way through the bureaucracy.”

Rubinstein served as secretary for the Fermilab Committee on Scientific Appointments from 1979-2015, making recommendations on scientist hires and promotions. He was also secretary of the International Committee for Future Accelerators from 1993 to 2016.

“He is known to every lab director around the world for over two decades as the person who writes the most concise minutes to an ICFA meeting possible — a truly historical record of our field,” said Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer. “Roy carries arguably the most encyclopedic knowledge of Fermilab in his head, which makes for interesting chats.”

He has served in his current role as assistant laboratory director since 1981.

“He’s very intelligent and was very, very good at what he did,” Chrisman said. “The lab will be hard-put to replace him.”

Rubinstein also invested his time and effort in young and early-career scientists. Having taught undergraduate physics students at the University of Birmingham, where he received his Ph.D. and was a research fellow, and graduate physics labs at Cornell, Rubinstein continued his teaching at Fermilab through the Saturday Morning Physics classes for high school students. He also initiated the Joint University-Fermilab Ph.D. Program in Accelerator Physics, through which graduate students were able to conduct extensive research in the science of particle accelerators — a field not typically studied in university graduate programs. Rubinstein coordinated the program from 1985 to 2005.

“I’ve had fun, and they’ve paid me to do it,” Rubinstein said.

A trombonist for 60 years, Rubinstein plans to keep making music as part of his jazz ensemble, the Chicago Hot Six, which has performed for a number of Fermilab parties. He’s also an avid runner, taking on about six long-distance races every year. He’ll continue to train during retirement.

“I do want to see him run a marathon while playing trombone!” Meyer said.

Say good-bye to Rubinstein over cake and coffee on Friday, July 1, between 2:30 and 4 p.m. on the second-floor crossover.

“Roy is an impressively amazing person — a scientist, a musician, a prolific runner and administrator,” Lockyer said. “He has been a true pleasure for everyone to work with over his 40 years in the field.”