The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 66.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Arthur R. von Hippel

By Derek Rose


Jan. 4, 2004

Arthur R. von Hippel, a pioneer in the field of material science who founded the Laboratory for Insulation Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died Wednesday of complications of the flu.

He was 105.

While at MIT during World War II, von Hippel’s laboratory made critical contributions to the development of radar, according to his son Eric A. von Hippel of Cambridge. He received the certificate of merit from the U.S. president in 1948, according to his son. After World War II, von Hippel became a leader in the relatively new field of the study of materials. His laboratory produced about 60 doctoral graduates.

In recognition of his contributions, the Materials Research Society established the Von Hippel Award as its highest honor in 1976. Born in Rostock, Germany, in 1898, von Hippel studied physics and then joined a physics institute headed by Nobel Prize laureate James Franck. In 1930 von Hippel married Franck’s daughter, Dagmar. In 1933, after Hitler came to power, von Hippel left Germany. He worked at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and was recruited for the faculty of MIT.

Von Hippel’s outspokenness and defense of the underdog made him beloved by his students but not always within the engineering establishment, according to another son, Frank of Princeton, NJ.

According to an MIT Web site account, when von Hippel was notified of his election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1977, he said, “It appears that my friends have outlived my enemies.”

As a child, Eric A. von Hippel MS ’68, a professor of management at MIT, used to accompany his father to work. “I used to run around corridors, sticking my head in other offices and labs to see what they were doing,” Eric said. When Eric told his father he wanted to be a firefighter, von Hippel brought him to MIT to see what they knew about firefighting.

“He taught us how to be professors by bringing us down there to learn more about the things we were interested in,” Eric said. He also said his father’s students were loyal to him because of the way he taught.

“They thought he was so cool. Instead of a formal exam he would invite them in for a chat, with apple pie, ice cream, and tea, and at the end he would give them a grade,” he said.

Von Hippel lived in Weston for the last 65 years of his life. In addition to his sons Eric and Frank, von Hippel leaves two other sons, Peter of Eugene, Ore., and Arndt of Anchorage; a daughter, Maianna of Needham; 11 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be private. A public memorial service will be held at MIT at a later date.