Martinus J. G. Veltman

Most Popular

Waalwijk, Netherlands
Birth Sign
Waalwijk, Netherlands

Martinus Justinus Godefriedus Veltman is a Dutch theoretical physicist who is best known for his work on Yang–Mills renormalization. He was born in the early 1930s in the ancient city of Waalwijk in Southern Netherland, and after graduating from high school with poor grades, he enrolled at the University of Utrecht to study Physics because he was rejected by medium-level technical schools. At Utrecht, the situation was similar; there was no good teacher and the lectures were uninspiring. In the end, it took him five years to pass his candidaats exam, and he spent a few years working odd jobs before earning his PhD at the age of 32. In the same year, he joined Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where he created Schoonschip, a computer software for symbolic manipulation of mathematical problems. He used this program to establish the essential mathematical basis for the electroweak theory while working at the University of Utrecht with his doctoral student Gerardus ‘t Hooft. They were later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their efforts. He spent the last part of his professional life at the University of Michigan, but after retiring, he moved to the Netherlands and currently lives in Bilthoven.

Childhood and Adolescence

Martinus Justinus Godefriedus Veltman was born in the ancient city of Waalwijk, in the southern Netherlands, on June 27, 1931. His father was a primary school principal who emphasized the importance of education. Martinus was the fourth of six children born to his parents.
His life was very uneventful until 1940. He began his studies at a nearby primary school, where he was a strong student. When the Germans marched into town in 1940, the chaos began. They turned their school into a military barracks, so classes had to be made up on the spot.

He started secondary school in 1943, but his grades began to worsen. Furthermore, he lacked linguistic aptitude, despite the fact that they were needed to acquire three foreign languages! He has recently discovered an interest in electronics. After some time, he began repairing radios with only his right hand index finger as a measuring tool, receiving several electrical shocks in the process.

He graduated from high school in 1948 with dismal grades. In general, students like him attended MTS in Hertogenbosch, a medium-level technical school. However, due to his poor academic performance, he had a slim possibility of being accepted.

As a result, he enrolled in physics at the University of Utrecht on the advise of his physics teacher. Unfortunately, the university’s state was not at all satisfactory. Due to the war, there were few competent instructors remained, and the lectures were not particularly stimulating. As a result, he showed no interest in his subject.

He completed the training and passed his candidates exam in five years. He was then hired as a part-time instructor at a lesser technical school. He’d also come across Albert Einstein’s ‘The Meaning of Relativity’ at some point. He gradually developed an interest in physics.

Veltman joined Prof. Michels of the Van Der Waals laboratory in Amsterdam as an assistant in 1955. His responsibilities included maintaining his library and occasionally preparing speeches. In addition, he met numerous well-known physicists during that time.

Later that year, he traveled to Utrecht, where he earned his master’s degree in 1956 while working with Leon Van Hove. Following that, he was inducted into the army, and upon his return to Utrecht in February 1959 after two years of military service, he resumed his PhD studies under Leon Van Hove.

He had to take particular courses in Naples and Edinburgh in order to work in particle physics. Veltman later joined the theory section at CERN in Geneva in 1961, where Van Hove had taken over as director in 1960.

He finally obtained his PhD in theoretical physics in 1963. ‘Intermediate particles in S-matrix theory and calculation of higher order effects in the production of intermediate vector bosons’ was the title of his dissertation.

Career of Martinus J. G. Veltman

Veltman joined the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University in Stanford, California, shortly after receiving his PhD in 1963. He began work on the Schoonschip, a computer program for manipulating mathematical equations symbolically. It is now widely acknowledged as the world’s first computer algebra system.

Veltman returned to CERN in the spring of 1964. Later that year, he spent some time at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York City, before returning to the Netherlands the following year.

He became a Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Utrecht in September 1966. Simultaneously, he assumed the role of editor of ‘Physics Letter,’ which he relinquished in the summer of 1968.

He paid a one-month visit to Rockefeller University in April 1968. He views this trip as a watershed moment in his career because it was here that he began the work that would eventually earn him the Nobel Prize.

Later that year, on the invitation of Claude Bouchiat and Philippe Meyer, he traveled to Orsay, France. He continued to work here until the end of the year, when he returned to Utrecht.

When he returned to Utrecht, Veltman assembled a team of researchers and resumed his studies. Simultaneously, he began modernizing the educational system and began looking for a good computer system, eventually settling on a CDC 6800 computer.

Meanwhile, Gerardus ‘t Hooft joined his team as a research student in 1969, and his dissertation topic was the renormalization of Yang–Mills theories. Veltman was ecstatic because he had been working on the same topic for quite some time.

In 1971, the first paper was published. After that, there was a lot of teamwork. They then created the dimensional regularization technique and demonstrated how Yang–Mills theories might be renormalized. They became internationally famous as a result of their work, and they were later awarded the Nobel Prize.

Veltman was invited to spend a year on sabbatical at the University of Michigan in the summer of 1979. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, he was only allowed to leave in March 1980. He was invited to join the faculty on a permanent basis after he arrived.

He finally joined the University in September 1981, after a few months of deliberation, and was voted to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur chair. It was a prominent position that came with a $35,000 yearly stipend, allowing him to purchase equipment and attend science conferences with ease.

He worked at the University of Michigan until 1996, when he retired. Throughout that time, he had constant contact with Europe, particularly Spain. He had ties to the University of Madrid and spent practically every summer there for two months.

Major Projects of Martinus J. G. Veltman

Professor Veltman is best recognized for his work on Yang–Mills renormalization. The electroweak theory had no mathematical foundation prior to their study. Veltman and his graduate student Gerardus ‘t Hooft set out in 1969 to transform it into a viable theory devoid of irrational infinite numbers (renormalization).

Veltman had already created a computer software for manipulating mathematical equations symbolically. They then used that information to create the necessary mathematical foundation and identify the attributes of the W and Z particles. Scientists later utilized that model to calculate the physical properties of other particles.

Achievements & Awards

Veltman and Gerardus ‘t Hooft shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1999 for “elucidating the quantum structure of electroweak interactions in physics.”

Veltman was elected to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1980.

Personal History and Legacy

Veltman married Anneke in 1960. The couple is the parents of three children. Hélène, their eldest child, studied particle physics at Berkeley and now works in London’s finance sector. Hugo, the second kid, owns and operates the Solstice restaurant in Los Angeles, and Martijn, the youngest, works in the film sector in Hollywood.

He and his wife Anneke returned to the Netherlands after retiring in 1996, settling in Bilthoven, where they had resided previously to 1981. Their two boys, on the other hand, elected to remain in the United States, while his daughter remained in London.

In 2003, he authored ‘Facts and Mysteries in Elementary Particle Physics,’ a book about particle physics. The book is aimed towards a broad audience.

On March 25, 1971, Asteroid 2066 T-1 was renamed Asteroid 9492 Veltman in his honor.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of Martinus J. G. Veltman is unknown.


Veltman had the opportunity to meet Tsung-Dao Lee while working at CERN and sought his counsel. “Don’t make mistakes,” Lee replied. Veltman found this amusing and burst out laughing. Lee, on the other hand, was not pleased. He spent some time teaching him about the importance of the job.