John H. Marburger III (1941-2011)

The American Physical Society notes with great sadness the death of one of its fellows, John H. Marburger III. Jack, as his colleagues called him, died at the age of 70 on Thursday, July 28 at his Port Jefferson, Long Island home following several years of treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

A native of Staten Island, New York, Dr. Marburger began his physics career at the University of Southern California after completing his undergraduate physics major at Princeton University in 1962 and his doctoral training in applied physics at Stanford University in 1969, where he studied intense laser-field interactions with matter. He quickly ascended the academic administrative ladder, serving as chairman of the USC physics department and dean of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences before being appointed president of SUNY Stony Brook in 1980.

He is widely credited with setting Stony Brook on a path toward growth and excellence at a time of fiscal stringency in New York State. Jack’s excellent people skills came to the attention of New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who asked him to chair a fact-finding panel on the contentious Shoreham nuclear power plant in 1983.

His ability to build consensus around positions with which he did not necessarily agree led to his appointment as director of Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1998 in the midst of a local uproar over tritium leaks at BNL’s high-flux beam reactor. Jack personally believed the HFBR should remain open, but with the furor having reached Vice President Gore’s office, he reluctantly presided over its orderly shutdown, helping the laboratory reestablish good relations with its eastern Long Island neighbors.

In 2001, despite his openly acknowledged Democratic credentials, President George W. Bush selected him as science advisor and appointed him director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Although the science community often accused the Bush Administration of misusing science to advance its own policy and political goals, it generally did not view Jack as complicit in those actions.

Shortly before his illness sidelined him, Jack helped President Bush develop the American Competitiveness Initiative that put in place major budget increases for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Institute of Standard’s core programs and the National Science Foundation’s research and education programs.

Although he had critics, Jack never lost the admiration scientists had for him as a highly ethical person, intensely devoted to his profession and his country. Despite his battle with cancer, he continued to advise APS, appearing as recently as March 11 at the meeting of the Physics Policy Committee.

His death is a loss for APS, science, and the nation. His wife, Carol, his two sons, John and Alexander, one grandchild and his younger sister, Mary Hoffman-Habig, survive him.

These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.