Yuval Ne'eman, one of the most colorful figures of modern science, died today at the age of 80. He was best known for the Eightfold Way classification of elementary particles, developed simultaneously with Murray Gell-Mann in the early 1960s, which helped bring order to the confused world of subatomic physics.
Born in Tel Aviv on 14 May 1925, Ne'eman, who spent much of his childhood in Egypt, originally trained as an engineer and seemed destined to take his place in the family pump factory. War intervened: Ne'eman fought first with the resistance against the British occupation and later in Israel's 1948 War of Independence against the country's Arab neighbors. Although he fought in the field, Ne'eman was better suited to the more intellectual side of military life and considered his time spent in heading up defense planning during the early 1950s as the apogee of his military career. Following a couple of years with military intelligence--he is the Ne'eman in Fredrick Forsythe's spy thriller The Odessa File--Ne'eman, who rose to the rank of colonel, became Israel's military attaché in London while at the same time signing up as a graduate student under Abdus Salam at Imperial College London. His first-ever publication was his Eightfold Way paper.
Quitting active military service upon returning to Israel in 1961, Ne'eman became scientific director of the Nahal Soreq Nuclear Research Center. Besides forging Israel's first research group in particle physics, Ne'eman was heavily involved in developing Israel's nuclear weapons.
From the mid-1960s onward, Ne'eman became a key figure at Tel Aviv University, where he founded the physics department and later served as university president. His science reflected his twin loves of Einstein's general relativity theory of gravity and the symmetry principles put to such fruitful use at Imperial.
In the aftermath of the Camp David Accords in the late 1970s, which saw the Sinai returned to Egypt in exchange for diplomatic recognition of the State of Israel, Ne'eman perceived a looming threat to Israel's security. In response he created and led a far-right political party opposed to the return of the Sinai. Though he considered himself pro-Israel rather than anti-Arab, Ne'eman's views were unpopular with many, and he endured several attempts on his life.
Although suffering from Parkinson's disease in recent years, Ne'eman continued working long hours and was a headline speaker at a number of recent international conferences. He died following a brain hemorrhage resulting from a recent fall.