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William E. "Bill" Keller

William E. "Bill" Keller

January 1, 1925 to December 31, 2015
Bill Keller (recent undated photo)

William E. "Bill" Keller, 1925 - 2015

March 30, 2016 (PO43).  William E. “Bill” Keller, a distinguished low-temperature physicist, leader in superconductivity-related activities and a Santa-Fe, New Mexico, USA, and a dedicated philanthropist passed away on December 31st, 2015.

Bill was born in Cleveland, Ohio on March 11, 1925.  As a student, he was active in wrestling and soccer, graduated from Harvard in 1945, Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and subsequently, in 1948, completed there his Ph.D. work in physical chemistry.   After a two years stint at the Ohio State University Cryogenic Laboratory, he joined the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in 1950 as a Staff Member in the Low Temperature Physics and Engineering Group.  In 1970, he was appointed that Group’s Leader and in 1985 Assistant “P” Division Leader.  He retired from LANL in 1989.

Bill's own important research and writings concentrated on low temperature physics, specifically properties of Heand He4.  These activities are covered in the obituary published in “Cold Facts”, the magazine of the Cryogenic Society of America (CSA), and also in the Brief History of the Condensed Matter and Thermal Physics Group at LANL through 2006, to which we refer our readers.

In the early 1970s, a new national need gained attention in the USA, and Bill’s group responded with energy R&D, a combination of fundamental research and technology development, including applications. The 1973 OPEC oil embargo triggered the widespread realization that US energy sources were being depleted and imported energy was undependable; furthermore, acid rain and other pollution became problematic.  Fundamental work under Bill’s direction included research on flux motion, losses, and pinning in Type II superconductors, dielectric breakdown at cryogenic temperatures, properties of A15 superconductors (e.g., Nb3Ge), and the stability of superconductor/normal-metal composites, while applied efforts included the development of dc and ac superconducting power transmission lines, superconducting magnetic energy storage for electric utilities, a car fueled by cryogenic hydrogen, and cryogenic distillation purification of hydrogen isotopes for fusion-energy fuel.  Federal support for such energy R&D dropped abruptly in the early 1980s, but many of these developments are receiving renewed attention today.

Near the peak of these activities, Bill was the organizer and chairman of the very successful 1980 Applied Superconductivity Conference (ASC 1980) in Santa Fe, which in retrospect was also a farewell to Bernd Mathias, the renowned experimental researcher into superconducting materials, especially the A15.

After retiring from LANL Bill became an active philanthropist.  In 1993 he co-founded the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico for Excellence in Teaching.  He also joined the Board of Directors of the Santa Fe Community Foundation and served for 15 years holding several offices, mostly financial, within this organization.  Most recently, he was a Board Member of the Santa Fe Science Initiative, promoting scientific literacy in the schools of northern New Mexico.

Bill lived his life fully, loved his garden, traveled the world, enjoyed a round of golf, excelled at stock picking, savored good food, and used to finish his day with a shot of good single malt. He had a rich life, gave back plentifully to his community, family, and friends, and is missed by many. Bill is survived by his wife, four children, and two grandchildren.

This obituary is a compilation of the two documents linked above, the Obituary published in the “New Mexican” newspaper of January 10, 2016, and fond memories of Alex Braginski, who had the honor to serve as a consultant in Bill’s group in the late 1970’s and considered him a good friend and mentor.  We thank Laurie Huget, Executive Director of CSA, and Greg Swift of LANL, for their kind help and assistance by providing sources.