Claude Bouchiat 1932–2021

25 May 2022
Claude Bouchiat

Theoretical physicist Claude Bouchiat, who was born in Saint-Matré (southern France) on 16 May 1932, passed away in Paris on 25 November. He was a frequent visitor to the CERN theory group. 

Bouchiat studied at the École Polytechnique in 1953–1955, and discovered theoretical high-energy physics after listening to a seminar by the late Louis Michel. In 1957, having been impressed by a conference talk given by C N Yang during a short visit to Paris, he decided to extend Michel’s results on the electron spectrum in muon decays to include the effects of parity violation. This work led to the Bouchiat–Michel formula. He then joined the theoretical physics laboratory (newly created by Maurice Lévy) at the University of Orsay where, together with Philippe Meyer, he founded a very active group in theoretical particle physics. In the 1960s, during several visits to CERN, he collaborated with Jacques Prentki. In 1974 Bouchiat and Meyer moved to Paris and established the theoretical physics laboratory at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS). 

Bouchiat’s research covered a large domain that extended beyond particle physics. With Prentki and one of us (JI) he studied the leading divergences of the weak interactions, which was a precursor to the introduction of charm, and with Daniele Amati and Jean-Loup Gervais showed how to build dual diagrams satisfying the unitarity constraints. The trio also extended the anomaly equations in the divergence of the axial current to non-abelian theories. In the early 1970s, Bouchiat and collaborators used quantum field theory in the infinite momentum frame to shed light on the parton model. In 1972, with Meyer and JI, he formulated the anomaly cancellation condition for the Standard Model, establishing the vanishing sum of electric charges for quarks and leptons as essential for the mathematical consistency of the theory.

Probably his most influential contribution, carried out with his wife Marie-Anne Bouchiat, was the precise computation of parity-violation effects resulting from virtual Z-boson exchange between electrons and nuclei. They pointed out an enhancement in heavy atoms that rendered the tiny effect amenable to observation. This work opened a new domain of experimental research, starting first at ENS, which played an important role alongside the high-energy experiments at SLAC in confirming the structure of the weak neutral current. Examples of Bouchiat’s contributions outside particle physics include his studies of the elasticity properties of DNA molecules and of the geometrical phases generated by non-trivial space topology in various atomic and solid-state physics systems. 

During his 60-year-long career, Claude Bouchiat had a profound influence on the development of French theoretical high-energy physics. He helped nurture generations of young theorists, and many of his former students are well-known physicists today. 

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