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Subject: Dr. Vernon W. Hughes, 81, Authority on the Subatomic

New Haven
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Date Posted: March 31, 2003 8:16:15 EDT

Dr. Vernon W. Hughes, a Yale physicist whose investigation of particles called muons poked holes in standard subatomic theory and provided evidence for the existence of previously undetected matter, died at Yale-New Haven Hospital last Tuesday. He was 81.

Dr. Hughes began his study of muons, which are rare and relatively heavy cousins of electrons, in 1960. He developed increasingly precise techniques for measuring their properties, culminating in an experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory to assess their response to powerful magnetic fields.

According to the standard model of subatomic theory, space that is apparently empty is actually a sea of short-lived particles that can interact with muons and affect their behavior in predictable ways. But Dr. Hughes's experiment showed muons moving in unexpected ways, suggesting that other, unknown particles exist in the subatomic world.

Announced in February 2001, the results of the experiment were seen by some physicists as evidence supporting a theory called supersymmetry, which assumes the existence of new particles, known as supersymmetric partners, for each of the known particles. Scientists are now using a new generation of particle accelerators to explore this possibility.

He received his master's degree and Ph.D. from Columbia, where he was a student of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi.

Dr. Hughes worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory during World War II, helping in the development of radar. In 1954, he joined the Yale faculty, and played a major role five years later in originating the use of polarized beams in high-energy accelerators. These beams, in which the axes of electrons point in one direction, allowed for an array of new measurements, and for the initial exploration of the internal structure of the proton.

Dr. Hughes continued work on the mechanics of the proton as leader of a research team at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory outside Geneva. His investigations there contributed to the understanding that protons have gluons as well as quarks, and that both of them contribute to protons' spin.

Vernon Willard Hughes, who retired from Yale in 1991 as one of its prestigious Sterling professors, was born in Kankakee, Ill.

His first wife, Inge, died in 1979. He is survived by their sons, Gareth, of Albuquerque, and Emlyn, of Pasadena, Calif.; his second wife, Miriam; and four grandchildren.

"Dr. Hughes practiced in the Columbia tradition of high-precision experiments," said Dr. Thomas Kirk, the associate lab director at Brookhaven. "He made fundamental contributions to elementary particle physics."

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