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Nobel Laureate Professor Dies in Diving Tragedy

Courtesy MIT News Office
Henry W. Kendall PhD '55
By Brett Altschul
Night Editor

Nobel Laureate and Professor of Physics Henry W. Kendall PhD '55 died Monday. He was 72 years old.

Kendall was a renowned experimental particle physicist. He was also deeply involved in questions of nuclear waste dangers and disposal, as well as being a major nuclear arms control activist.

Kendall died while scuba diving in Wakulla Springs State Park in Florida, where he was taking underwater photographs with a friend from the National Geographic Society. At about 5:00 p.m., other divers found him floating in water less than 10 feet deep. He was flown to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The Wakulla County medical examiner found that Kendall had not drowned. The Boston Herald reported that the physicist had been using nonstandard, less wasteful scuba gear, and that he had failed to turn on his oxygen supply correctly, suffocating him.

Nobelist in touch with undergrads

As a physicist, Kendall was both a prolific researcher and a dedicated teacher, heavily involved in the undergraduate physics curriculum at MIT. "He was one of the last real hands-on professors," said David Robertson, a technical instructor in the physics department, who worked with Kendall for many years in the Freshman Physics Laboratory.

In 1991, after winning the Nobel prize, Kendall was named to the Julius A. Stratton professorship, which carried no teaching obligation. However, he continued to teach in undergraduate laboratories voluntarily. He taught for "the pure love of it," Robertson said.

"I would like to emphasize that while Henry Kendall made great contributions to our understanding of physics and great contributions to a variety of humanitarian causes, he never stinted in his devotion to undergraduate education," said Professor of Physics Marc A. Kastner, the head of the physics department. "We have always taken great pride in telling potential MIT undergraduates that our freshman laboratory was taught by Nobel prize winner Henry Kendall."

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Kendall taught Experimental Physics I and II (8.13 and 8.14), the required physics department laboratory subjects. Kendall introduced special introductory experiments into 8.13 to help students master elementary skills and ease them into the course, which is considered very demanding. Kendall "really emphasized the basics," Robertson said.

Later, Kendall moved to overseeing the Freshman Physics Laboratory, where students in the advanced versions of Physics I and II (8.012 and 8.022) did three two-hour experiments each term.

In the freshman lab, Kendall was known for his friendliness with relatively new MIT students. "He really did it very well," Robertson said. Kendall also used the laboratory time to emphasize both the danger and usefulness of radioactive materials, a major subject of interest to him.

Quark researchers garner Nobel

"Henry Kendall's death is a terrible loss to MIT, the scientific community and the world at large," said Institute Professor Jerome I. Friedman, who shared the Nobel prize with Kendall and Richard Taylor of Stanford University in 1990.

At the Stanford Linear Accelerator, Kendall, Friedman, and Taylor did pioneering work on deep inelastic scattering from 1967 to 1973. They scattered very high energy electrons off protons, neutrons, and nuclei, to resolve the inner structure of nucleons. Previous investigations, from atomic electrons and lower-energy scattering had indicated that the charge on nucleons was spread relatively uniformly.

In 1968, Kendall and his colleagues found the first direct experimental evidence of quarks, the charged constituents of nucleons that were predicted by Murray Gell-Mann of the California Institute of Technology in 1964. Gell-Mann used the quark model to predict the existence of a new particle, the W-, a heavy particle similar to the proton and the neutron. Gell-Mann won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1969, after the discovery of the W-, but the question of whether quarks actually existed or were merely mathematical tools was not resolved.

Kendall, Friedman, and Taylor worked with very fast electrons that were able to penetrate into nucleons. The electrons appeared to scatter off pointlike charged particles, rather than the broad, smeared-out charge distribution seen by less energetic electrons. This showed that the quark model, which revolutionized nuclear physics, was correct.

MIT mourns colleague, mentor

"Henry Kendall was visionary, passionate and effective in his appeals to humankind to care for our planet and for each other," said President Charles M. Vest. "His understanding of the world ranged from subatomic physics to the issues and technologies of war and peace. He was an ardent environmentalist and excellent photographer. His span of interests and actions contributed greatly to MIT and to the worlds of science, politics and social action."

"Henry was an outstanding scientist and an outstanding human being who worked tirelessly for the betterment of society," Friedman said. "He used political and scientific activity effectively to advance such goals as arms control, nuclear safety and a better environment. I will miss him terribly."

"Everything he did, he did to the highest standards," Robertson said.

A rich and fruitful life

Kendall was born on Dec. 9, 1926 in Boston. In 1945, during the Second World War, he entered the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. After the war, Kendall served on a troop transport ship until 1946.

In 1946, he entered Amherst College, graduating with a SB in mathematics in 1950. He attended graduate school in physics at MIT, earning his PhD in 1955. He taught at Stanford from 195661, coming to the MIT faculty in 1961. He became a full professor in 1967. In 1969, he was one of the founders of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Four years later, he became chair of the UCS, a position he held until his death.

He was also known as an outdoorsman and naturalist. "He climbed mountains; he made trails," said Professor of Physics Rainer Weiss. His appreciation of nature led to his deep concern about the future of the environment.

For many years, Kendall was deeply involved in questions of nuclear waste, arms control, and environmental safety, and was the premier expert on the subject in the worldwide physics community. In 1997, he presented a special physics colloquium at MIT devoted to the subject.

Through the UCS, Kendall became involved in many other pressing environmental issues. He was active on global warming, helping organize a major statement at the 1997 Climate Summit in Kyoto, Japan. The same year, Kendall and several other scientists briefed President Clinton and his advisers on the dangers associated with global warming.

Kendall also served as a consultant for the Department of Defense for 10 years, advising the Pentagon on classified matters.

Kendall earned many awards besides his Nobel prize. In 1982, he received the Bertram Russell Society Award. In 1994, Kendall was awarded The Ettore Majorana-Erice Science for Peace Prize. Last year, he earned the Nicholson Medal for Humanitarian Service from the American Physical Society.

Kendall earned membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He also co-wrote five books.

Professor Kendall is survived by a brother, John, of Sharon, Mass.