Prof. Albert Simon remembered as leading theoretician, mentor

February 8, 2017

simon mentor

Albert Simon, a leading theoretician in thermonuclear and plasma physics, and former chair and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Rochester, died Sunday, February 5, 2017, at age 92.

“It is difficult to capture in words the generous, intellectual aspects of Al’s character,” said current department chair John Lambropoulos. “I last saw Al in December at the Highlands at Pittsford retirement community, and he impressed me, as always, with his sharp intellect, personal kindness, wonderful sense of humor, and so very personable and friendly attitude.”

al simon

Professor Simon graduated from the City College of New York in 1947 with a B.S. after serving in the Navy during WW II as an electronic technician’s mate. He earned his doctorate in physics from the University of Rochester in 1950, working with Professor Robert Marshak. He served as associate director of the Neutron Physics Division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN, then as head of the Plasma Physics Division at General Atomic in San Diego, CA.

He returned to the University of Rochester in 1966 as a professor of mechanical engineering and physics, later serving as chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering from 1977 to 1984. He became a senior scientist at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in 1983, and was a member of the University's interdisciplinary program in High Energy Density Plasma in collaboration with LLE until his retirement in 2006.

“Albert Simon made seminal contributions throughout his long and distinguished career to the field of plasma physics and controlled thermonuclear research,” said Robert McCrory, LLE’s director.

Simon was the first to successfully carry out the calculations that explain two-plasmon decay, a complicated process in which laser light propagating through a plasma spontaneously transforms into plasma waves. Two-plasmon decay has turned out to be an important process in direct-drive laser-fusion research, and Simon's paper has been cited more than 100 times.

He also contributed classic papers on Rayleigh Taylor instability published in the 1960’s in Physics of Fluids. Rayleigh Taylor instability occurs at the interface between two fluids of different densities when the lighter fluid is pushing the heavier fluid. Examples include instabilities in plasma fusion reactors and inertial confinement fusion.

Many of LLE's early graduate students were drawn to plasma physics and thermonuclear fusion for their dissertation research because of Simon's high standing in the field.

“Al was Department Chair when several of us joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering,” Lambropoulos added. “Through his mentorship and leadership he affected many students, staff, and faculty over a very long time. I will miss him profoundly.”

Simon was a Guggenheim Fellow at the Danish Atomic Energy Commission (1964-65) and held visiting positions at The Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton (1974) and at Oxford University, Oxford England (1975). He authored the text An Introduction to Thermonuclear Research and was the past editor of a series of books, Advances in Plasma Physics, and co-authored articles on nuclear fusion for the Encyclopedia Americana.

He was elected Fellow of APS in 1956.

His family will receive friends on February 8 and 9 from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at the Highlands of Pittsford (100 Hahnemann Trail). In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics, 250 East River Rd., Rochester, NY 14623 - Attention: Director's Office.