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Arthur Kerman, professor emeritus of physics, dies at 88
MIT NEWS OFFICE, Arthur Kerman, professor emeritus of physics, dies at 88, Jun 02, 2017

Arthur K. Kerman, professor emeritus of physics and a distinguished researcher in MIT’s Center for Theoretical Physics and Laboratory for Nuclear Science, passed away May 11, 2017 at the age of 88.

“He was a wonderful friend and colleague, accomplishing many important things in the creation and promotion of science,” said Professor Emeritus Earle Lomon. “We will greatly miss his friendship and guidance.”

Kerman was known for his work on the theory of the structure of nuclei and the theory of nuclear reactions, publishing or co-publishing more than 100 papers over his career. His research included nuclear and high-energy physics, astrophysics, and the development of advanced particle detectors. His interests in theoretical nuclear physics included nuclear QCD-relativistic heavy-ion physics, nuclear reactions, and laser accelerators. He was an early advocate of the importance of quarks for understanding nuclear physics.

Kerman graduated in 1950 from McGill University, where he studied physics and mathematics. He completed his doctoral work on nuclear surface oscillations at MIT in 1953 under the direction of Victor Frederick Weisskopf. From 1953-1954, he studied with R.F. Christy at the California Institute of Technology as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, and in 1954 he began a two-year stay at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen. He joined the MIT faculty in 1956, were he would become the director of MIT’s Center for Theoretical Physics from 1976-1983 and the director of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science from 1983-1992. Kerman officially retired from MIT after 47 years in 1999, but continued to mentor the last of his 43 students until 2006.

Kerman was a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the New York Academy of Sciences. He was named a Guggenheim Fellow in Natural Sciences. He was associate editor of Reviews of Modern Physics.

Throughout his career, Kerman was a leading advocate for new initiatives in science and education. He participated in the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC), an MIT-led group of high school and university physics professors organized in 1956 to write a physics course curriculum that would convey a sense of excitement and inquiry lacking in traditional teaching. By 1964, about half of U.S. high school students were using the resulting course materials. Kerman would later collaborate on the MIT-produced, PSSC-inspired experimental course, “Physics: A New Introductory Course,” nicknamed “PANIC” by students.

Kerman offered guidance as a consultant or on advising committees to several national laboratories, including Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Oak Ridge, as well as to the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory and the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST). He also served on numerous other influential bodies, a few of which are the Secretary of Energy Fusion Policy Advisory Committee, the White House Science Council Panel on Science and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Inertial Confinement Fusion Advisory Committee.

“Whenever you work on an exciting new science project, Arthur is sure to tell you that he was involved in the very early stages of that project,” said Michael N. Kreisler, SAIC contractor to the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Department of Energy and physics professor emeritus at UMass Amherst, at a 2012 conference at CERN. “While it sometimes seems impossible for him to have actually done as much as he says, I know from experience that it really is true.”

“He was, until the end, a valued advisor to different national laboratories and to the highest levels of the Department of Energy,” said MIT physics professor Bruno Coppi, Kerman’s friend since the 1960s.

A longtime resident of Winchester, Mass., Kerman is survived by his wife of 64 years, Enid Ehrlich, and his children Ben, Dan, Elizabeth, Melissa, and Jaime. Kerman is also survived by 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Gifts in Kerman’s name may be made to the Arthur Kerman Fellowship Fund, #3302540. This gift will support fellowships in the Physics Department, with a preference for fellows conducting research in theoretical physics. For more information, contact Director of Development Erin McGrath at 617-452-2807, or