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Obituary: Professor George Bekefi

Professor Emeritus of Physics George Bekefi, who retired this summer after 38 years of teaching and research, died Thursday after a battle with leukemia. He was 70.

Bekefi was best known for his accomplishments in the field of plasma physics, specifically in the production of high-powered microwave generators. His recent work focused on the production of free-electron lasers, very short wavelength coherent emissions that are used in communications and many other fields.

Bekefi taught several classes, including 8.02 (Physics II)and 8.03 (Physics III), during his tenure. He was "a superb teacher, very warm and humorous," said Physics Department Head Ernest J. Moniz. "Students appreciated him. He was usually rated in the six region [out of a possible seven-point rating] by his students" in Course Evaluation Guide evaluations, Moniz said.

In retiring, Bekefi remarked on his enjoyment "of revealing to hundreds of undergraduates the mysteries of physics and guiding some 50 [graduate students] toward their MS and PhD degrees."

Bekefi was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1925, but left for England following the Nazi occupation in 1939. At University College in London he received a bachelor of science degree with first-class honors in physics and mathematics. He went on to earn a masters degree from McGill University in Canada.

In 1957 he left McGill for MIT, where he served first as a research associate and later as assistant professor.

In 1961 he became full professor. Early on he joined the Plasma Physics Group in the Research Laboratory of Electronics, with which he continued affiliation throughout his career.

In 1976, Bekefi and a staff researcher, Thaddeus J. Orzechowski PhD '75, developed a source of radiation that produced bursts of microwaves 50 times more powerful than the largest conventional microwaves then in existence.

Bekefi's work earned him the 1995 Free-Electron Laser Award by the American Physical Society, the Gold Honorary Medal for Merits in the Field of Physical Sciences from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in 1993, and numerous other awards and recognitions.

He leaves his wife, Chaia; a son, Ariel; and a daughter, Tamara, all of Brookline.