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Recent In Memoriam (Obituaries)

Meyer Garber

December 1, 1928 to December 14, 2017
1972, Brookhaven National Laboratory

January 24, 2018 (PO63). Meyer Garber, a long time staff member of Brookhaven National Laboratory, passed away peacefully on December 14, 2017, at the age of 89.  After obtaining a doctorate from the University of Illinois he won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Holland.  He spent some time as an academic at the Michigan State University.  In the 1960s he joined Brookhaven National Laboratory where he worked on low-temperature physics and superconducting magnets for more than thirty years.  At Brookhaven, he worked with Bill Sampson and others in characterizing Rutherford cables and in magnet design. His work continued through the Superconducting Collider era.

He is remembered as a mentor and friend by many world-wide colleagues in the superconductivity community.  Lucio Rossi of CERN still uses planning graphs of critical current and load lines in lectures he gives on the history of superconductivity. Rossi noted that Garber helped INFN-Genova and INFN-Milano-LASA establish a multi kA test facility for Rutherford Cables. Steve Gourlay of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory cites the mentoring that Meyer did with him on a long-distance basis regarding magnets and conductors including Nb3Sn.

Peter Wanderer, Lucio Rossi, Steve Gourlay and Bruce Strauss

Meyer’s Life

In 1945 Meyer had a Fulbright scholarship to work at the great Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory at Leiden in the Netherlands, the birthplace of superconductivity and liquid helium research.  It is not surprising that he chose to work in the field of cryogenics and superconductivity after that!

In the mid 1960’s, His good friend Myron Strongin persuaded him to leave Michigan State University and come to Brookhaven National Lab, where he assured Meyer there would be more opportunity to do his own research, and for some time Meyer did work on his own low-temperature experiments, he   also collaborated with Myron Strongin and others.  His research focused on methods of using liquid helium for superconductor cooling.  When the BNL superconducting transmission line project for D.O.E. was set up, Meyer was asked to work on it, and he served for some time as deputy manager for Eric Forsyth. His contributions to the work included several patents for low-loss conductors.

Later, he continued his work on the science, design, and testing of superconducting wires and magnets with Bill Sampson, at Isabelle, the AGS and in later years, at RHIC.  Wires tested by the BNL group were used in magnets for the BNL accelerators, but also HERA, and the LHC at CERN, among others. In 1979, Meyer was part of a BNL team that visited labs in Russia and Ukraine, and he later visited Brazil to explore BNL sources for Niobium.

After retiring in 1993, he continued working with Bill Sampson as a guest scientist until he moved to California to be near his daughter and grandchildren in 2014.

Meyer grew up during the depression in Philadelphia.  His parents could not afford much for their children.  Meyer and his sister both made their own way by winning scholarships and showing amazing determination to learn about all the fine and wonderful things of life.  Meyer was very much an autodidact.  He had an admirable enthusiasm for new experiences, and one of the things he taught himself to do was sailing – his great solace in later years.  Music was his great love, but as he grew old, a cruel deafness deprived him of his ability to distinguish pitch, so he could no longer hear the music. Meyer had a great sense of humor and loved the good things of life – food, wine, music, great books, and most of all -  good friends. 

Alison Garber


James Nordman

April 27, 1934 to November 21, 2017
James Nordman (around 2005)

January 29, 2018 (PO62). James Emery Nordman, Professor of Electrical Engineering and IEEE Member passed away on 21 November 2017 at age 83. Jim was born in Quinnesec in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He graduated from Marquette University in 1957 and received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1962. He then joined the faculty of the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Jim was associate chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department for several years, a founding member of the Material Science Advisory Committee, and an active participant of the Applied Superconductivity Conference.

During his 34 years at UW–Madison, he initiated and taught many subjects and built extensive thin-film laboratory facilities for fabrication and study of superconductor-based devices. Jim, in collaboration with his graduate students and colleagues, made extensive advances in superconducting technology, both in low-temperature and high-temperature superconductivity and on the fabrication of thin-film devices utilizing state of the art techniques. He spent two years on separate leaves of absence from UW–Madison to further his professional work. He conducted research in Princeton, NJ at David Sarnoff Research Laboratories of RCA, and in 1972 he took his family of eight to Grenoble France for a year in which he worked at L’Air Liquide. Jim retired from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1996.

Jim was a creative engineer, an experimentalist, and a soft-spoken teacher. He seemed to have immense patience and inexhaustible time to listen to and guide his graduate students in their endeavors. His unconventional approach of encouraging his students to freely select their research areas prepared them for successful careers in their professions. Some went on to establishing a superconductive electronics center which is currently part of a premier government lab for fabrication of superconducting circuits. Others participated in founding what is believed to be the first successful commercial company for the advancement of thin film and superconducting electronics. His guidance and engineering insight became invaluable to his students in the industry in their quests to expand the boundaries of conventional electronics and successful introduction of superconducting electronics into the commercial marketplace.

Jim’s disposition of embracing new research territories and ideas is what led him to superconducting electronics from his early work on semiconducting devices and circuits. His entry into Josephson effect research at UW gained Jim and his colleagues' national attention when they published their research finding on parallels of wave propagation on superconducting transmission lines to brain waves. To Jim’s amusement, a few custodians of the engineering building petitioned him to be the first recipients of his “engineered brain.”           

In his spare time, Jim enjoyed tinkering with old cars, playing music and performing choral singing; he was a talented musician. In retirement, he was able to focus on his 1941 Lincoln Zephyr convertible—giving him pleasure, challenges, and more good friendships. His quiet manner and humble approach were enjoyed by friends, colleagues, and students.
Jim is survived by his wife Clare and their six children, 13 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren, and by numerous students whom he mentored as engineers, researchers, teachers, and entrepreneurs. He will be dearly missed for his sense of humor, patience while teaching, fatherly winks and, always, a ready smile.

Masoud Radparvar, Gert Hohenwarter, and Cathy Nordman

In the 1980s I was a graduate student at UW–Madison working in Steve Van Sciver’s helium cryogenics lab. Needing a thin film lab to make temperature sensors for my experiments, I approached Jim Nordman and was welcomed into his lab. There I learned much from fellow students as we worked to make films and devices from sometimes old and finicky equipment. One learning experience occurred when I was working on an evaporator. While turning a bolt, the wrench touched something that produced sparks and a bang and shut down all power to the lab. Professor Nordman came out of his office and marched me down to the breaker room so we could restore power, along the way making it clear with one comment and just the slightest hint of annoyance that in the future I was to make absolutely sure the power was off before working on equipment. I consider part of Jim’s legacy that I am still alive and working in superconductor electronics.

The last correspondence I had with Jim was after the 2011 EUCAS centennial of superconductivity held in The Netherlands. I wanted to let him know that I was still active in superconductor electronics and that superconducting computing was again under active development. I also sent him a photo I took at the conference of a presentation referencing his work on Nb/a-Ge/Nb published in 1972. He was happy to receive it and we spoke on the phone. I am sad that he did not live to see the next generation of superconducting computers.

D. Scott Holmes


Henri Desportes

September 20, 1933 to September 24, 2017
Henri Desportes (2017)

Passing of Henri Desportes

October 20, 2017 (PO60).  It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Henri Desportes (aged 84) on the 24th of September in his village of Gif sur Yvette. Henri Desportes was the head of the CEA  Saclay Department STCM until his retirement in the mid-90s.

Since the 60s Henri Desportes was a pioneer of Applied Superconductivity for Physics experiments and accelerators. He rapidly became an internationally recognized expert for his role in the development of numerous accelerator and detector magnet systems for high energy physics.

In particular, he contributed to the creation of the first superconducting magnets  for polarized targets (HERA, installed at CERN and then in Protvino), the 15-foot bubble chamber at the Argonne National Laboratory, the magnet of the CERN hybrid spectrometer bubble chamber in 1972, the first thin-walled solenoid, CELLO, in 1978 at DESY, the ALEPH solenoid for LEP at CERN in 1986, and finally should be emphasized his primordial participation in the genesis and the design of the large magnets of the CMS and ATLAS detectors for the LHC collider at CERN.

Henri Desportes supervised numerous works at Saclay on the development of innovative superconducting magnets (solenoids, dipoles, quadrupoles, etc.), with a wide range of scientific, technical and medical applications. He was the main initiator of new techniques using helium indirect cooling, the stabilization of superconductor by aluminum co-extrusion and externally supported coils.

Henri Desportes worked on all these subjects with some great names in physics. It is partly thanks to him that 'Saclay', as international physicists say, has been involved in most of the magnets for large detectors built in Europe since the early 1970s.

For this work he received, in 2002, a prestigious IEEE Council on Superconductivity Award "for Continuing and Significant Contributions in the Field of Applied Superconductivity".

We will remember his courtesy, his humor and his unfailing involvement in these flagship projects that have contributed greatly to Physics experiments and to several fundamental discoveries.

It is to his family that we turn today to offer our support.


John Alcorn

February 29, 1932 to September 7, 2017
John Stewart Alcorn (around 1990)

November 22, 2017 (PO61).  John Stewart Alcorn was born on February 29, 1932, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His family moved to Houston, Texas in 1935, where he grew up. He graduated from The Rice Institute (now Rice University) in 1955, with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. In the United States Navy Reserve, he was commissioned as Ensign.

As an engineer, he joined Aerojet General Nucleonics, San Ramon, from 1958 till 1961 and did transportation studies for laboratory scale, gas cooled, mobile reactors. From 1961 till 1965, he worked for William Brobeck & Associates in Oakland, designing electromagnets, dipoles, and quadrupoles for HEP research at the Rad Lab and at LLL. For the next 10 years, from 1965 till 1975, he was involved in the design, fabrication, and installation of the copper magnet for the 40-inch liquid hydrogen bubble chamber at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. In this context, he worked also on the design and fabrication of various copper beam handling magnets and the design, construction, installation, and testing of the Large Aperture Superconducting Solenoid, (LASS).

In 1975, he joined the General Atomic Company, San Diego, for the next 14 years, till 1989, working there on the design and construction of a number of superconducting magnets for high energy physics, power fusion research, superconducting magnetic energy storage and power grid leveling. From 1989 on he had the oversight on design, manufacturing, testing and installation of the large superconducting dipole and quadrupole magnets as the Hall A engineer in charge.

Later, he was consultant and advisor to LANL with respect to the reactivation of the LASS solenoid in the MEGA configuration, and also to Indiana University with respect to the reactivation of the LASS - MEGA solenoid within the framework of Hall D at JLab, where he also advised with the reconfiguration for the purposes of GLUEX.

A Personal Memoir.

Fall of 1964. A meeting took place in Building M1 at the Stanford University, then still known as the Farm, at which the need for someone to design and build a magnet for the planned hydrogen bubble chamber was recognized as essential. A young engineer, John Alcorn by name, was recruited a little later from the engineering pool at the fledgling Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, SLAC, and assigned to do just that in the nascent Hydrogen Bubble Chamber Group where I met him for the first time. John was magnets, I was cryogenics, different interests, yes, but somehow, we gravitated together. John professed to be a runner, I claimed to be a bicyclist, we both played tennis, we both loved to hike in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. We both loved a good discussion, political or technical, which was not important. John was not a reticent character by any means but it took me quite some time before I found out that he was a highly talented artist who expressed the newsworthy events of the day in elaborate pencil compositions somewhat in the manner of Diego Rivera but on a much smaller scale and much more delicately. I also found that John had a fiery temper, just like that artist, offset by an impish sense of humor. He claimed that the reason for his manner was that he was born on the 29th of February and thus was deprived of three birthdays every four years! Not only was John an artist, he was a superb craftsman, a builder of solid models of aircraft, of aircraft of one kind: the fighter planes of the Battle of Britain time. As we were both students of that particular period, we had both opinions about the hardware on a daily basis. While we were building the bubble chamber, John found the time to make an absolutely fabulous scale model of the Spitfire, which is now in the Smithsonian. A decade or so later he produced Daisy Mae, the Douglas A-20 Havoc bomber, which also landed in the Smithsonian. (John is holding the model in the photograph)

The bubble chamber construction proceeded well and John and I began to mesh: I needed more space for my pipes, which he was loth to give as it “reduced the field”. The bubble chamber was commissioned successfully and began to participate in the physics program, John disappeared to make more copper magnets and I to explore this new phenomenon of high field superconductivity. As the 12 foot superconducting magnet for its bubble chamber had just been completed at the Argonne National Laboratory, the confidence in superconductivity rose at SLAC with the result that a complex, multi-coil solenoidal spectrometer was planned. This brought John and me together again to design, build, test, and argue. The project, the Large Aperture Superconducting Solenoid, LASS, was and is a testament to John’s engineering talent. Apart from the field analysis, every component in that assembly of four separate solenoidal coils in iron shells was analyzed with a slide rule and meticulously documented. John guided the design, procurements, construction, the coil winding and insulation, with an eagle eye. When I recall now how limited the resources were at the time, everybody had at least two other obligations, I marvel that LASS was ever finished. But John willed it and it became the forefront of an extensive physics program.

During the construction of LASS, John was often in contact with John Purcell at ANL and established a well-knit collaboration at a distance. So, when LASS was completed and no further superconducting magnets were planned at SLAC, John decided to leave its fractious physicists, and defect to the calm of commerce, to the General Atomic Company in San Diego to be with JP as co-head of the new Superconducting Magnet Group. At that time G.A. was deeply involved in designing the PGFR, a power generating fusion reactor, with superconducting ‘D’ coils. In in the years following John participated in a number experimental programs such as the 10-tesla high field test facility, the 12-tesla model coil cooled with helium II and numerous studies and coil concepts toroidal field magnets for the Engineering Test Facility and fusion power research, GA’s primary mission. He was also involved in the design of the 30 MJ energy storage coil for the Bonneville Power Administration, a project he was particularly proud of and which had interesting consequences for both of us.

John was a unique individual endowed with the ability to make his friends and colleagues participate in his adventures in which common sense was not always immediately obvious. So, it came to pass that the fruits of the 1982 Applied Superconductivity Conference hung by a thread or more correctly on a few sheets of plastic. In Knoxville John divulged a secret to me: his great desire to find a 1956 Chevrolet hardtop coupe and he thought that in the hillbilly country around the town he might find one. Instead of attending the meeting he wandered around the countryside and indeed on the third day announced success. Would I help him get it home? Of course, I would as long as I could take the conference papers with me. I was the editor at the time, and I was not going to let the scientific effort of the past two years out of sight. Agreed, and all we had to do is to chase the resident chickens and get the black vehicle out of the mud. A day later the engine was sputtering, the wheels were turning shod with new tires, the trunk declared unusable and the precious boxes with manuscripts carefully wrapped in many sheets of plastic on the back seat. We visited a car wash but gave up when we noticed that the windows were leaking and the more we washed the weaker the insulation on the wiring became.

The departure from Knoxville was very slow, the supposedly moving parts of the car did so only reluctantly, but we had plenty of time. As the mud fell off our speed would increase in mini-quantum leaps, rather disconcerting, but by the time we reached Memphis we were moving quite nicely. I should mention that we were the sight of the day for the locals: a 1956 Chevy! At the Tennessee border, John declared that he needed to find the original hubcaps and so for the next few hours we cruised the junkyards in the states of Mississippi and Arkansas finding nothing. As we were crossing the Mississippi River, we ran into a tornado, at least we ran by it but could not escape the rain. The car leaked like a sieve. The manuscripts were safe but we were soaked to the skin. The hospitality of the folks in Little Rock fixed all that, after all, we drove a 1956 Chevy and her name was DoraBella as befitted a Southern Dame!

We made it to the Rockies, as we were about to cross, naturally, it started to snow and the temperature fell like a rock, no heat in the car. Imagine the comfort of that ride, but we made the West.  The papers were published, John and DoraBella disappeared in San Diego, to reappear some years later, DoraBella superbly restored in a red and cream livery, bearing the vanity plate ‘Rice 56’, John’s alma mater.

En route John displayed yet another one of his accomplishments: he recited Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ of what we both fondly believed to be the Original English as she was spoken then. Heard once, super, heard twice, ok, heard three times, a walk home became preferable.

Thirteen years of commerce taught John the arcana of schedule and budget, an art not unknown but not necessarily practiced by the physics community so when he was invited to CEBAF he was well equipped to assume the role of Hall A engineer to create a pair of High-Resolution Spectrometers, each consisting of a superconducting dipole and three quadrupoles. His dipoles have an interesting design, the coils have a positive-negative winding profile and the limited cryostability of the superconductor owes much to the concept he pioneered in LASS.

A talented, experienced engineer as John always finds someone who needs help. And so, in his case also, even at a distance. On the West Coast, the fates decided to involve John again in local intrigues. LASS had ceased physics activities and was essentially abandoned but a group of physicists at Los Alamos National Laboratory decided that the solenoid would be suitable for their program. About this time, I learned that the Bonneville Power Administration’s energy storage project was winding down and with it the associated 1 kW helium refrigerator. While the need for such a machine at SLAC was not immediately obvious, an ‘exchange’ seemed opportune. LANL received LASS, SLAC a large refrigerator, and John became a participant once again. With his help and advice LASS became MEGA and more physics followed.

Some time at the beginning of this century I heard that MEGA had been retired, as a result of some inquiries from one Alex Dzierba of Indiana University who asked whether the magnet was operational and whether it could be transported to CEBAF, by now JLab, for experiments in the new Hall D. The interested parties, including John, met at Los Alamos, found a well maintained three coil MEGA and the fourth coil in the crate in which it left SLAC fifteen years ago, burried in the desert sand outside the laboratory fence. In due course, the magnet was shipped to Indiana and subjected to further indignities which led to numerous electrical and instrumentation problems. MEGA became GLUEX, the coils and iron were reconfigured as also was the cryogenics. Ultimately GLUEX, or at least its solenoid, became a working magnet once again.

It is a huge tribute to John’s engineering skills that so complex a device as the LASS solenoid quartet should, after more than forty years and countless miles of travel and major modifications become operational once more. As soon as I received the news, I attempted to inform and congratulate him. I was too late.

Steve St.Lorant, October 2017.


Edgar A. Edelsack

June 24, 1924 to May 5, 2017
Edgar Edelsack at 90 (2014)

Remembering Edgar A. Edelsack

May 5, 2017 (PO58).  Edgar A. (Ed) Edelsack was a physicist in the fields of nuclear physics, solid state physics and applied superconductivity who, in the second half of the 20th century, distinguished himself as one of leading supporters of superconductivity in the United States. He died April 4, 2017, of pneumonia at the age of almost 93.

Ed was born on June 14, 1924, in New York City, where he also attended high school and the New York University (NYU, 1941 - 1943). He was inducted into the US Army in 1943. While in military service, he was trained in mechanical engineering at Washington State College (now the Washington State University). He then served in the European war theater--Ardennes, the Rhineland and Central Europe—as a gun crewman in the 11th Army Division, 491st Armored Battalion. An event that deeply marked him was his service in the newly liberated Mauthausen Nazi concentration camp, where for some days he assisted the starved and emaciated former inmates1.

After the war, Ed returned to the study of physics at the University of Southern California (USC) and graduated there with a BS in 1948. He continued with graduate study at USC until 1950 and completed the class work for a Ph.D. In 1950, he also spent some time at the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies. 

From 1949 until 1953 Ed was employed at the Emery Tumor Institute in Los Angeles, CA where he constructed a 2 MeV electron accelerator used for the treatment of cancer patients and supervised a radioactive isotope laboratory capable of handling intense radioactive sources. Subsequently, 1953-1957, he worked at the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory in San Francisco, CA. There, he managed the 2 MeV proton/electron accelerator and supervised physicists and engineers engaged in fundamental and applied nuclear physics and radiation biophysics research. Between 1957 and 1967, Ed worked for the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in San Francisco, where he was responsible for technical reviews and evaluation of over thirty Navy-supported physics and biophysics projects at academic and industrial laboratories.

Finally, in 1967, Ed moved to Arlington, VA, to join the Physical Sciences Division of ONR. Once there, he soon started the ONR superconductive electronics program of which, in the role of a Senior Program Manager, he remained in charge until his retirement in 1986. During that time he served as a catalyst in starting the International Cryocooler Conference and actively supported newly established conference forums, such as the Applied Superconductivity Conference (ASC). In 1986, as that Conference Chair, he organized the ASC in Baltimore, MD, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the discovery of superconductivity.

While very active in the area of applied superconductivity, Ed considered it essential to also provide support to basic science. Although one may think that ONR should focus only on specific applications directly related to Navy’s needs, Ed understood that ONR, the oldest scientific agency in the United States, should have a vital interest in supporting the development of basic science. Ed interpreted his area of responsibility broadly, even though this was not always an easy task2.

One of Ed’s proudest achievements at ONR was his support and initiative for research in SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device) magnetometry, which created a bridge between superconductivity and biophysics. In 1969 at Ed’s suggestion, and with ONR support, a magnetically shielded room was constructed at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). In it, the research team of David Cohen and James E. (Jim) Zimmerman recorded the very first magnetocardiograms3 of the heart thanks to the use of a SQUID magnetometer newly developed by Jim. This led directly to the establishment of biomagnetism as a research area and clinical discipline. Ed authored and co-authored more than 50 papers, as well as co-edited a two-volume book edition on superconductivity (The Science and Technology of Superconductivity, Plenum Press, 1973).

Once retired, Ed served as adjunct professor in the School of Engineering at George Washington University (GWU) and as a consultant with the Institute of Defense Analysis and HYPRES, Inc., where he served later as Chairman of that company’s Scientific Advisory Board. He volunteered his time at GWU to enhance programs for science teachers in public schools, as well as directly in local schools themselves.

In 2002, Ed became the very first awardee of the newly established IEEE Max Swerdlow Award for Sustained Service to the Applied Superconductivity Community, one of the prestigious awards sponsored by the IEEE Council on Superconductivity.

Ed is survived by his wife of 35 years, Charlotte Nusberg, son and daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren.  As a WWII veteran, Ed will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. 

We thank the widow, Mrs. Charlotte Nusberg, for providing and verifying many biographic details. Her help was invaluable.
Alex Braginski, Juelich Research Center
Vladimir Kresin, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Marty Nisenoff, formerly Naval Research Laboratory (retired)
Bruce Strauss, President, IEEE Council on Superconductivity

1 In his later years, he both lectured and was interviewed on what he witnessed there.  He is honored as a liberator by the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.
2 Read more on Ed’s support for basic science
3 Slightly later, the first magnetoencephalograms of the human brain were also recorded by them.