Nicola Najib Khuri, a renowned physicist who is known for the introduction of a new method to study the Riemann hypothesis, died on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022 in New York City.
He was also a beloved husband, father, brother, uncle and grandfather.
Born on May 27, 1933, in Beirut, Lebanon, to Najib Nicola and Odette (Joujou) Khuri, he was the oldest of four siblings.
A precocious student, he graduated from the American University of Beirut in 1952, at 19. He then traveled to the United States for his graduate studies in physics. He received his master’s and Ph.D. from Princeton University, and was a fellow of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study.
While in graduate school, he met Dr. Elizabeth Ann Tyson, the love of his life, and wife of more than 60 years.
Upon receiving his doctorate in 1957, he returned to Lebanon and joined the faculty at AUB. In 1964, he came back to America and accepted a position at The Rockefeller University, in New York, where he founded a lab and remained for the rest of his career.
A leading authority on the use of mathematics in high-energy theoretical physics at Rockefeller, his research focused on the mathematical description of elementary-particle collisions that occur in large accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
Among his most notable achievements were the introduction of a new method to study the Riemann hypothesis, one of the last unsolved problems in mathematics, and the foundation of the field of potential scattering theory, which led to the development of important concepts such as Regge poles and strings.
In addition to his post at Rockefeller, he held visiting appointments and consulting roles at CERN, Stanford University, Columbia University, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. He was also a member of the panel on National Security and Arms Control of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a fellow of the American Physical Society.
He, Liz and their two children built a beautiful life in New York. Their homes — first in Riverdale and then Manhattan — were a revolving door for friends, family, colleagues and mentees who came from far and wide to hear his remarkable stories, take in his sage advice, and enjoy his timeless, occasionally risqué jokes.
He relished the vibrancy and possibility of New York. He was a true cosmopolitan and an enthusiastic citizen of the city.
When not at home, he could be found ordering mezze for the table at one of his favorite Lebanese restaurants, exploring his interest in international politics at the Council on Foreign Relations, or making a toast at the Century Association, one of his favorite places.
Although firmly planted in New York and America, he retained an enduring love for, and a fundamental commitment to, Lebanon. He returned often to visit friends and family.
He was a passionate supporter of his alma mater, and a mentor to generations of young scientists from the Middle East.
He joined AUB’s board of trustees in 1969, where he served for 40 years, and was instrumental in establishing the university’s Center for Advanced Mathematical Sciences, among many other contributions.
He was larger than life. To know him was to look up to him, to admire him, and to seek his company.
There are many things his family and friends will miss about him: His character. The way he commanded a room. His childlike sense of humor, His warm, yet mischievous, smile. The happy gleam in his eye when he told a story from his adventurous life. His sneaky determination in old age to satisfy a lifelong appetite for good wine, good cheese, and excellent chocolate over the protests of doctors, caregivers, and his daughter, Suzanne.
Above all, people will miss the way he treated others. He loved people, and was genuinely interested in their lives. Nobel laureates and neighbors alike were lucky to call him a dear friend. Waiters, bartenders and doormen lit up when “Professor Khuri” walked in.
Of course, this love was felt most deeply by his large, far-flung yet tightly knit family.
He was preceded in death by his wife and his brother, Raja N. Khuri, former dean of the AUB Faculty of Medicine.
He is survived by sister Selwa, brother Antoine and sister-in-law Virginia, his daughter Suzanne and son-in-law Vijay Seshadri, his son Nicholas and daughter-in-law Claire. He’s also survived by his grandchildren Nicholas, Grace and Gloria. Jis beloved caregiver of more than 20 years, Florence Walkes, 10 nieces and nephews, and countless friends all over the world.
The family will hold a celebration of life in New York at a later date and asks that donations in Nicola Khuri’s memory be made to the Center for Advanced Mathematical Sciences at the American University of Beirut.