Edwin E. Salpeter was a towering figure in twentieth-century astrophysics. Among his major scientific accomplishments is his 1955 paper ‘The luminosity function and stellar evolution’, where he first derived the empirical stellar initial mass function and estimated the probability for the creation of stars of given mass at a particular time, known as the Salpeter initial mass function. Just before this major achievement he had explained how giant stars burn helium to form carbon in the triple-alpha process, in which three helium nuclei combine to form carbon. This crucial step opened the path for the formation of elements as heavy as iron in the core of the stars. Salpeter showed the way to put physics into astronomy, and astrophysics has made enormous strides to understand the Universe. He once observed that most successful scientists are golf players; that is, they map out their own strategy and then write a unified theory. Salpeter said that he belonged to the minority of scientists who are Ping-pong players that react to influences from outside players. This approach made Salpeter a generalist.
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