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Recent In Memoriam (Obituaries)

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.


Alexei Abrikosov

June 25, 1928 to March 29, 2017
Alexei Abrikosov (Photo: ANL, courtesy of APS News)

Albrikexei Aosov 1928-2017

May 3, 2017 (PO57U). Alexei A. Abrikosov, a world-renowned theorist in the field of condensed matter physics, and especially superconductivity, Nobel laureate, passed away after a long illness on March 29, 2017, at the age of 88.  He was the last still living of four Russian theory giants, who were among creators of the modern condensed matter theory.   The towering sum of their contributions to theory of low-temperature superconductivity is known as GLAG (Ginzburg-Landau-Abrikosov-Gor’kov).

Abrikosov was born on June 25, 1928, in Moscow, then Soviet Union (USSR), in a family of prominent medicine doctors1.  He graduated from high school in 1943 and was accepted as student of the Institute for Power Engineers.  In 1945 he transferred to the Physics Department of the Moscow State University and graduated summa cum laude with a diploma (M.Sc. degree) in 1948. After that, he was accepted as a Ph.D. student at the Institute for Physical Problems (now Kapitza Institute), where his adviser was Lev D. Landau. After defending in 1951 a dissertation on thermal diffusion in completely and incompletely ionized plasmas, Abrikosov received the Candidate of Science (Ph.D.) degree and became staff member of that Institute.

In 1951–1952 he worked with N.V. Zavaritskii, an experimentalist of the same institute, to experimentally verify the critical magnetic field of thin films predicted by the recently published Ginzburg-Landau phenomenological theory of superconductivity.  This work and its subsequent extension to bulk materials resulted in the Formulation of the concept of Type II superconductivity, the lower and upper critical fields, prediction of vortices and the vortex lattice.  This work, one of the most cited in the world scientific literature, proved invaluable for the development of practical conductor technology.

In the mid-1950's, Abrikosov worked also on several other topics, including the quantum electrodynamics at high energies, the subject of his Doctor of Science dissertation (a degree analogous to the Central-European habilitation), which he defended in 1955.  Towards the end of that decade, he then collaborated with Lev Gor’kov on theory of superconducting alloys and superconductors with magnetic impurities, in which they predicted the possibility of gapless superconductivity.  In collaboration with I. Khalatnikov they also studied the behavior of superconductors in high-frequency magnetic fields. Later, Abrikosov collaborated also with M. P. Kemoklidze on a related problem.

From the 1960's on, Abrikosov’s interests turned towards normal metals, semi-metals, and semiconductors.  We refrain from listing Abrikosov’s theoretical achievements in these and other areas not related directly to superconductivity but should mention that in 1961 he published with Lev Gor’kov and Igor Dzyaloshinskii the “Quantum Field Theoretical Methods in Statistical Physics”, the seminal textbook on the subject (see photo).  After the discovery of high-temperature superconductivity, Abrikosov got interested in high-Tc layered cuprates, jumped once more into the fray and developed his own version of cuprate superconductivity theory, which could explain a good part of their unusual behavior, including the isotope effect, neutron scattering, pseudogap and the metal-insulator transition.

In 1965, Abrikosov was one of the organizers of the Institute of Theoretical Physics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (now the Landau Institute), where became Head of the Condensed Matter Theory Department, in parallel with various teaching appointments (see below). In 1988, Abrikosov was elected Director of the Institute of High-pressure Physics of the Academy in Troitsk, near Moscow.  In 1991, with the demise of Soviet Union, he moved to the United States where he accepted an invitation of the Argonne National Laboratory to become Distinguished Argonne Scientist and then head of the condensed matter theory group in the Materials Science Division, 1992 - 2000.  He continued to collaborate with that Division until his terminal illness.

Abrikosov’s teaching career started at the Moscow State University, where he climbed from Assistant to Associate and Full Professor, 1960-1969.  In 1970-1972 he was Professor at the State University of Gorky (now Nizhnyi Nowgorod), from 1976 to 1991 Chair of Theoretical Physics at the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys.  At the US, he was Adjunct Professor, University of Illinois, Chicago, and University of Utah.  He held also the Leverhulm adjunct professorship at the University of Loughborough, UK.

Prior to the Nobel Prize in 2003 (together with Vitaly Ginzburg and Anthony Legett) “for pioneering work on the theory of superconductivity and superfluidity”, Abrikosov received numerous other distinctions and prizes, in the Soviet Union, the US, and elsewhere.  Already in 1964, he was elected a corresponding member of the Soviet Academy.  In 1966, he received the Lenin Prize, together with Lev Landau, Vitaly Ginzburg and Lev Gor’kov, for the theory of superconductivity in strong magnetic fields.  In 1972, Abrikosov was awarded the Fritz London Prize in Low-temperature Physics, in 1982 the USSR State Prize, in 1987 he became a full member of the Academy, in 1991 received the John Bardeen Award, again together with Ginzburg and Gor’kov.  In 1992 Abrikosov became Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), in 2000 member of the US National Academy of Sciences.   He was a foreign member of the Royal Society (UK), received honorary doctorates from the University of Lausanne (Switzerland, 1975) and Bordeaux (France, 2003).

Abrikosov has been remembered by his colleagues and collaborators as remarkably gifted writer, erudite and congenial story teller.  He had a strong personality and was very principled.  His deep sense of humor helped him to overcome many adversities he faced in his long and very eventful life.  In his free time, he loved to climb mountains.

This obituary is compiled based primarily on the autobiography Abrikosov wrote on the occasion of his Nobel Prize (in “The Nobel Prizes 2003”, Nobel Foundation, Stockholm, 2004), the article in his memory published by A. F. Andreev et al. in Uspekhy Fiz. Nauk (UFN) 187, No. 4, 463-464 (2017), and also on the obituary posted by Argonne National Laboratory on its website.  We especially thank A. A. Varlamov of SPIN-CNR and Rome University, Italy, one of the co-authors of the UFN memorial article, for his critical review of this SNF obituary.  Another UFN memorial co-author, V. Mineev of CEA, France, provided that article.  We also thank Vladimir Kresin, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Bruce Strauss, Dept. of Energy, both of the USA, for their kind assistance.  Prior to publishing this obituary, we temporarily posted (with permission) the obituary published by APS News.

1His father was the chief pathologist of Soviet Union.


David G. Hawksworth

January 1, 1954 to March 15, 2017
David Hawksworth (January of 2015)

Passing of David G. Hawksworth

August 1, 2017 (PO56). It is with great regret that we report that Dr. David G. Hawksworth, former Managing Director of Oxford Magnet Technology Ltd., passed away on March 15th at the age of 63 after a short struggle with cancer.

Having completed an intern as a summer student in Martin Wilson’s Group at Rutherford, David became David Larbalestier’s first PhD student at the University of Wisconsin in 1976, carrying out pioneering work in increasing the upper critical field of NbTi and NbTiTa alloys, work still referred to today. Joining Oxford Instruments in 1981 as Project Engineer for the newly formed NMRI group, David became the Engineering Manager and later Director of Oxford Magnet Technology Ltd., (OMT) where he was instrumental in leading the team which developed the first high field whole body 1.0T, 1.5T and 4.0T active shield MRI magnets. Promoting a culture of quality and best practice, David lead his team to be the innovative world leaders in the production of cost and performance optimized MRI systems. After a two-year stay at Siemens Healthcare in Erlangen, Germany, David became Managing Director of OMT Ltd in 1995 until it became a wholly owned Siemens subsidiary in 2003.

During David’s technical leadership of OMT Ltd., the business received Queen’s Awards for Technology (UK) in 1985, 1991 and 1996, Export in 1985 and 1991 and Enterprise in 2001. David’s personal contributions to the superconducting industry were recognized by the conferring of the Max Swerdlow Award of the IEEE Council on Superconductivity at the 24th International Conference on Magnet Technology (MT24) in Seoul, Korea in 2015. Having been Managing Director of Oxford Biosensors followed by UK and Ireland Managing Director of Quest Diagnostics, in recent times he was enjoying being back in the world of superconductivity in an advisory capacity with Tokomak Energy.

David was very much a people’s person whose passion, dedication and friendship will be a great loss to his colleagues and our community. David’s professional legacy should be thought of not just in business terms, but also in human terms.  He developed younger generations of business leaders, within and beyond superconductivity, by providing an inspirational role model of how to build and manage complex teams working on the most demanding problems in a very cost-competitive market. He leaves us with many memories of an utterly positive and ethical engineer and manager who had an unusual empathy for all who worked with him.  For this, he will be missed but never forgotten, with so many happy memories and experiences shared. He is survived by his wife Judith, and children Matthew, Rebecca, and Elizabeth. A Special Memorial session dedicated to David is to be held at MT-25 in Amsterdam.