Eugene Feenberg was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1906 and raised in Dallas, Texas. As a self-supporting student at the University of Texas in Austin, he completed both bachelor's and master's degrees in physics within three years, graduating with top honors. Eugene then journeyed to Harvard to study for the Ph.D. under Edwin C. Kemble, author of an early American text on quantum mechanics. His thesis, written in 1933 after a year in Europe as a Parker Traveling Fellow, presented the first statement and proof of the optical theorem for quantum scattering.
During the remainder of the pre-war period, he held positions as Instructor at Harvard, Lecturer at Madison, and Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, joining the faculty at NYU in 1938. During World War II he participated in radar research at Sperry Gyroscope Corporation. In 1946, Feenberg accepted a faculty position at Washington University in St. Louis, where he remained the rest of his life, becoming Wayman Crow Professor of Physics in 1964 -- a Chair previously occupied by such eminent scientists as Arthur H. Compton, Arthur L. Hughes, and Edward U. Condon. He was member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Eugene Feenberg was a pioneer in the application of non-relativistic quantum mechanics to many-particle systems. His contributions to nuclear theory, to approximation methods, and to the theory of strongly correlated quantum fluids have become part of the enduring fabric of physics.
Working with Breit and Wigner in the mid-1930s, Feenberg was among the first to document the charge independence of the nuclear force and to interpret it as a new symmetry of nature. In the immediate postwar period, Feenberg laid a sound basis for the development of modern nuclear shell theory through comprehensive studies addressing the assignment of orbital configurations on the basis of spins and magnetic moments, the character of nuclear transitions, and the correlation between shell structure and nuclear isomerism. His important role is exemplified by the appearance of back-to-back letters to the Physical Review in 1949, the first by Feenberg, Hammack, and Nordheim, and the second by Maria Goeppert Mayer.
From the late 1950s onward, Feenberg's primary intellectual endeavor was the development of the method of correlated basis functions, a powerful theory aimed at microscopic (i.e., `ab initio') description of the ground and low excited states of strongly correlated many-particle systems under realistic conditions of interaction, density, and temperature. His 1969 book on the "Theory of Quantum Fluids" continues to be a valuable and treasured resource for researchers in many-body physics.
Eugene Feenberg's influence continues today, more than twenty years after his untimely death in 1977, in the lives and careers of the many former students and academic descendents who have built upon his seminal research and have sought to fulfill the high standards of excellence and integrity he set as a physicist and as a human being.
The Feenberg Award was established at the Third International Conference on Recent Progress in Many-Body Theories in 1983 to commemorate the life and work of an extraordinary theoretical physicist through the recognition of extraordinary accomplishments in many-particle physics. Eugene Feenberg will be remembered for his wise stewardship of a field that pervades all branches of physics, his deep physical insight and highly original contributions to the advancement of science, his concern for the welfare of his students and colleagues, and his exemplary integrity in both professional and personal spheres.