Alexandru Mihul. Work at JINR sparked his interest in nuclear physics

News, 01 June 2023

1 June marks the 95th anniversary of the birth of a Romanian physicist Alexandru Mihul (1928 – 2015), JINR Vice-Director in 1970-1973, a co-author of the discovery of the anti-sigma-minus-hyperon particle.

Alexandru Leonida Mihai Mihu was born in 1928 in Iaşi, Romania, in a family of physicists and university teachers. He graduated from the Electromechanics Department of the Polytechnic Institute in 1950. Afterwards, in 1953, he graduated from the Faculty of Physics of the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi (UAIC), at which he defended his thesis in 1957. He started his scientific career at UAIC in 1947-1950 studying gas discharges, astronomy, and conducted experiments on the generalised theory of relativity.

In 1957-1953, he worked at JINR as a chief researcher. There, after meeting a polish physicist Leopold Infeld, he decided to devote himself to nuclear physics. That period of his life resulted in two outstanding scientific achievements. Mihul together with Professor Marius Petrașcu was the first to announce the fission of 232Th induced by muons. The discovery was reported to the USSR Academy of Sciences. He also co-authoured the discovery of the anti-sigma-minus-hyperon particle at the JINR Synchrophasotron. Vladimir Veksler headed an international group of discoverers.

When he returned to Romania, Mihul headed the Laboratory of High Energy Physics and Cosmic Rays of the Institute of Atomic Physics of Bucharest. In addition, he was a docent at the Faculty of Physics of the University of Bucharest (1962-1969). Alexandru Mihul came back to the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research as its Vice-Director in 1970-1973. Afterwards, he continued teaching at the University of Bucharest.

In 1967-1968, as well as after 1989, he worked at CERN, at which he headed groups of Romanian physicists of two international scientific projects led by a Nobel laureate Samuel Ting. They are the L3 Experiment at the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP) and the AMS Project (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) to study cosmic radiation.

A group of discoverers of the anti-sigma-minus-hyperon particle at the JINR Synchrophasotron headed by Academician Veksler (on the left). Alexandru Mihul – the first on the right.

In 1976, the scientist was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the New York Academy of Sciences. In 2003, he received the title of Honorary Doctor of JINR.

The scientist’s compatriots noted that Alexandru Mihul differed from others in that he sparked interest of his students in the subjects studied, and supported their professional development. As a leader, he could start anything from scratch, thinking through each step and adapting it to existing conditions. This ability to start a new activity characterised him as a true student of Professor Horia Hulubei, one of the JINR founding fathers.