Ralph A. Alpher
Alpher, Ralph A. AUSTIN, Texas Ralph A. Alpher, 86, longtime resident of the Capital District area, passed away on Sunday, August 12, 2007 after a long illness. He had just received the National Medal of Science Award from President Bush on July 27, 2007 for his work on nucleosynthesis, the development of a model of the Big Bang theory of the creation of the Universe, and prediction of the Cosmic Background Radiation, existence of which was confirmed through observation in 1964 by Drs. Penzias and Wilson of Bell Telephone Labs in N.J. His son, Dr. Victor S. Alpher, of Austin, Texas where Ralph was residing, accepted this award for him as he could not travel. Dr. Ralph Alpher was a physicist with the G.E. Corporate Research and Development Center from 1955 through 1987. From 1987 through 2004, he served as distinguished research professor of astronomy and physics at Union College in Schenectady, simultaneously serving as director of the Dudley Observatory. He also served many years as president of the board of WMHT-TV, and had a keen interest in the development of the fledgling Public Television station. Since February 3, 2004, Dr. Alpher has been distinguished research professor of physics and astronomy Emeritus of Union College and University, Schenectady, N.Y. His seminal paper, "Formation of the Chemical Elements", appeared in the journal Nature on April 1, 1948. The paper was based on his dissertation, which was attended by 300 persons, including press, resulted in a Herblock cartoon, and faculty in full academic regalia--very unusual for such an event! For his ground breaking work on the Big Bang, he had received awards from the American Philosophical Society, the Franklin Institute, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Belgian Academy of Sciences, and the National Medal of Science. NASA has grouped the works of Ralph A. Alpher and Robert A. Herman along with those of Albert Einstein, Penzias and Wilson, and other important figures in cosmology of the 20th Century (COBE project brochure). His original predictions of the Cosmic Background Radiation were confirmed by observations made in 1964, and he currently has writing on the "pre"-Big Bang under review. Also, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) through the COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) Project further confirmed Dr. Ralph A. Alpher and Dr. Robert A. Herman's work. COBE is one of NASA's most important projects of the last two decades in cosmology. Dr. Alpher's wife, Louise, passed away in July, 2004. He is survived by his son, Victor of Austin, Texas; daughter, Harriet Lebetkin of Danbury, Conn.; and grandchildren, Rachel and Lisa of Danbury and Hartford, Conn. Services at the Levine Memorial Chapel, 649 Washington Avenue, Albany, N.Y. on Thursday, August 16, 2007 at 1:00 p.m. Interment will follow in the Agudat Achim Cemetery, Rotterdam, N.Y. Donations in memory of Dr. Ralph A. Alpher are invited to the National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology of the American Museum of Natural History (www.amnh.org), the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation (www.nation-almedals.org), or the American Institute of Physics Education Division to support science fellowships and grants at the undergraduate and graduate level (www.aip.org)
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Published by Albany Times Union from Aug. 14 to Aug. 15, 2007.
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11 Entries
I was truly touched by the messages in this book regarding my late uncle, Ralph. From the waitress at the "Latham 76" diner whose "dreams were encouraged" to all the others there was one theme - the quiet greatness of Ralph - his mind, his accomplishments and his kindnesses in assisting others. I echo the comments of my brother, Norman, that Ralph was truly at peace when he passed away; as he received the recognition so long deserved. At the reception and dinner in D. C. in honor of the medal of science winners I spoke with two Nobel laureates who expressed the same sentiments as those who wrote in this guest regarding Ralph's accomplishments and his quiet and kind demeanor. Thank you all for your heartfelt sentiments.
Richard Alpher
October 12, 2007
I am Ralph Alpher oldest nephew. He was my father's younger brother. I never lost contact with him or his family, visiting him in Schenectady and Tampa. Being with him was always a highlight. We all are most happy that he was able know of his winning the Presidential Medal of Science before he passed, and that he was able to respond to the honor. He then was at peace knowing that his momumental accomplished had been recognized by his peers and his country. May he rest in peace.
Norman Alpher
September 9, 2007
Ralph occasionally spoke at the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers Club. I met him nearly a decade ago after one such evening presentation at the Schenectady Museum. We took him to Friendly's Restaurant on Nott Street afterward, where I asked if I could audit his course, titled something like "General Relativity, Gravity and Spacetime," at Union College. As a senior faculty member, Ralph's teaching was sporadic, and I waited two or three years… but eventually I got to take his course. Ralph taught only part of the term, as he required surgery, but I enjoyed having lunch with Ralph and sometimes other faculty members after several of the Thursday morning classes.

I kept in touch. As a toxicologist with only an avocational connection to astronomy, I sought (and received) admission to the American Astronomical Society, and Ralph was one of two sponsors willing to support my candidacy. I will never forget being directed to a Physics Department office where both of my eventual sponsors could be found. Though I had unwittingly interrupted a Departmental faculty meeting, Ralph greated me cheerfully, asking "what's toxic?" Another poignant memory: seeing Ralph and Louise at the play "Background" performed at Union College, about Ralph's 'big bang' research and the circumstances leading to denial of a Nobel Prize while others were recognized. For Ralph, I attended Louise's funeral, but I did not attend Ralph's. Instead, I offer these memories for his family.
Bob Michaels
August 19, 2007
I was fortunate to meet a delightful man named Ralph Alpher because he was living across the hall from my father-in-law in Tampa. Also, my husband had told me about a client who had written a book on the "Big Bang" theory. We ended up having several long talks during which he told me - in terms that I could understand - about his thesis, how he had put himself through school while working for the government during WWII, and things he was involved in during that time. I cherish the time we spent together. He spoke so warmly of his wife and children. I missed him when he moved to Texas, but he will remain in my memory as he will in so many lives he touched. I hope that someone will be able to compile a book on his life and let people who are unaware know of all of the things he developed and invented that were of so much value to our world. What an extaordinary life and what an extaordinary man!
Marlene Root
August 19, 2007
My mother, Betty Moore, and I add our condolences to those noted by my sister and others here--Ralph Alpher was indeed a gifted scientist and professor, and so much more. He was a generously compassionate and loving person. I recall how my father, and indeed the whole family, valued Ralph's lively intellect, which was always joined to kindness and generosity. Though he'll be sorely missed, his spirit lives on in our memories of his generous nature.
Bobbie Moore
August 18, 2007
Dr. Alpher and his wife Louise were long time customers of the Latham 76 Diner, I had the honor to wait on Ralph and Louise on many occassions during my tenure as waitress at the 76. They always encouraged my dreams. I shall always remember their kind words of inspiration. They were two of my favorite customers. My deepest thoughts and condolences are with your family and friends during your time of mourning.
Barbara Morrissey
August 17, 2007
Ralph Alpher and my father were close friends when both were researchers at General Electric. In addition to being a great scientist, Ralph was an especially decent human being--he continued to visit my father during my father's last days. I believe Ralph was the last person to have an actual conversation with him. I extend my sympathies to the family of this fine man.
Kathy Moore
August 17, 2007
Ralph and I were first cousins, he bing a very few years older than I am, and although we knew each other when we were children and when our parents visited each other, we have not been in touch since then. When I saw his obituary on a website that had a photograph of him, I recognized it because of my memory of his father. I send my deepest sympathy to his survivors.
Alfred Maleson
August 17, 2007
I had the good fortune to share an office next to Dr. Alpher’s office while teaching at Union College. This fortunate happenstance led to numerous short chats with Ralph ranging from angular momentum coupling to the vicissitudes that are life. I always enjoyed our conversations and am a better person for having had the pleasure of his friendship. My sincere condolences to his family.
Allen Anderson
August 14, 2007
I was actually a student of Ralph Alpher's at Union College in Schenectady. It was an honor to learn from such an accomplished and bright man. I may have been in his first class there. We used to laugh about how quickly he erased his notes as he wrote them that first year! However, as someone who worked, took classes and spent summers in the department, I got to know him as a person as well and will miss him. My condolences.
Jennifer (Kove) Rose
August 14, 2007
For the family - I met Ralph when I was very young, as I am Dave and Sylvia Weintraub's niece. I have always loved your extended family - an important part of my childhood - and greatly admired Ralph's unique creative work. His generation in our families were truly great and rose to the tremendous challenges of their times in ways we can only aspire to. With heartfelt condolences and warmest regards,

Eleanor Stein
55 Brookline Avenue
Albany New York 12203
Eleanor Stein
August 14, 2007