Professor of Physics Emeritus Robert I. Hulsizer Jr. PhD ’48, a former chairman of the faculty and expert on elementary particle physics whose zeal for teaching science made him a student favorite at MIT, died on April 30 of complications from Alzheimer’s. He was 88.
Born in East Orange, N.J., in November 1919, Hulsizer received his BS in math from Bates College in 1940, an MA in physics from Wesleyan University in 1942, and his PhD in physics from MIT.
During World War II, Hulsizer helped develop radar at the Radiation Lab at MIT. Among the applications he worked on were radar-guided bombsights that allowed bombers to find their targets through cloud cover, which was an important advance for wartime pilots who previously relied on visual sighting.
In 1964, after spending 15 years at the University of Illinois, he returned to take a professorship at MIT and to direct what became the Education Research Center, which was focused on new ways of teaching science and integrating the humanities and social sciences.
A tremendously popular and inspiring professor, Hulsizer saw teaching as an essential part of being a scientist. For many years, he taught the 8.01 and 8.02 elementary physics courses required of all MIT students, where he created many lively, vivid lectures and demonstrations that brought the subject to life.
Ray F. Magliozzi ’72, better known as half of Click and Clack from the National Public Radio series Car Talk, said Hulsizer was one of his favorite professors at MIT.
“I only took one course with him but he made a tremendous impression on me — he had a very gentle, nonimposing way of conveying complex concepts,” Magliozzi told the MIT News Office. “I would say he gave me the confidence to tackle a few courses that I probably should have flunked.”
Hulsizer’s talent as a teacher sprung from his insights, deep empathy and his conviction that complex ideas can be made understandable to anyone. One student evaluation from his class read, “We … wanted to learn because of his zeal and absolute enthusiasm for the subject. To learn from a man like him makes me feel really special. He is considerate, kind, highly intelligent and can relate to students even though he is decades older.”
Hulsizer and his wife were housemasters of Ashdown House, a graduate dormitory, from 1974-85. The pair hosted a popular weekly evening of ice cream and socializing. When they stepped down as housemasters, the space where it was held was renamed the Hulsizer room.
Hulsizer retired in 1986 after 22 years as a professor at MIT, and continued teaching at the Institute for many years after. In Chilmark, Mass., where he had a second home, he served as chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals and of the Town Affairs Committee.
He was a fellow of the American Physics Society and a member of Sigma Xi, Phi Beta Kappa, the American Association of University Professors and the American Association of Physics Teachers. Hulsizer also served as the chairman of the MIT faculty from 1977-79.
Hulsizer’s memory began to fail him several years ago. He gave up teaching when he could no longer recall scientific formulae fast enough to stay ahead of his students. He was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia, an Alzheimer’s-like disease.
He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Carol Kasen Hulsizer. His marriage to Bernice L. Hulsizer ended in divorce in 1965. He is survived by his children from his first marriage: Stephen Hulsizer and wife, Elsie, of Seattle; Ann Wymore of Jemez Springs, N.M.; Morgan Jenkins and husband, Bill Jenkins, of Fredericksburg, Va.; and Cynthia Hulsizer and husband, Bob Bernahl, of Philo, Ill. He is also survived by his stepchildren, Elizabeth Ascher and husband, Michael Yogman, of Cambridge, Mass.; Ellen Ascher of San Diego; and Steven Ascher and wife, Jeanne Jordan, of Newton, Mass; and grandchildren Adam Wymore, Sara and Robin Jenkins, Madeline and Alexandra Yogman, Jordan Ascher and Ana Maria Ascher.
A memorial service will take place July 19 in Chilmark and at MIT in the fall (date to be announced).