April 9, 1921 - June 6, 2013
Eugen Merzbacher, prominent theoretical atomic and nuclear physicist, former chair of the Physics Department at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-founder of the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory, died June 6 (Thursday) at UNC Memorial Hospital from complications following surgery. He was 92.
Born in Berlin, Germany, he moved with his family to Turkey in 1935, where they remained throughout World War II. It was there that Eugen obtained an undergraduate degree in physics at Istanbul University. In 1947, he immigrated to the United States, and by 1950 had earned his doctorate in physics at Harvard University. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen a short time later.
After brief appointments at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies and Duke University, Merzbacher joined the faculty of the Physics Department at UNC Chapel Hill, where he spent the remainder of his career. He was the department chair from 1977 to 1982.
Merzbacher was involved with the complexities and intricacies of cutting edge nuclear physics research throughout his career. From 1959 to 1960, he worked at the Institute of Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen with Niels Bohr, Nobel award winner and one of the fathers of nuclear science. He was a visiting professor at the University of Washington at Seattle in 1968 and in 1977 received a U.S. Senior Scientist Humboldt Award at the University of Frankfurt. In 1986 he was a visiting research fellow at the universities of Edinburg and Stirling in Scotland, and in 1991 was the Arnold Berhard Visiting Professor at Williams College.
He was a dedicated educator and, at UNC Chapel Hill, was named a Kenan Professor in 1969. He received UNC's 1972 Thomas Jefferson Award. In 1990, he served as president of the American Physical Society. He retired from UNC in 1991. In 1993 he received an honorary degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received many awards from his peers for his teaching and service to the physics community.
He wrote one of the first graduate level textbooks on quantum mechanics, which went into a third edition in 1998 and was an introduction to the field for generations of students.
Eugen enjoyed listening to classical music, reading books, playing Hearts with family, eating linzer torte, and camping and hiking in the mountains. He was an active volunteer for many organizations, especially in his retirement. Never one to leave an important task undone, he completed writing a family history just days before his death.
Eugen is survived by his wife of 60 years, Ann Reid Merzbacher; three children—Celia Merzbacher, Charles Merzbacher, and Matthew Merzbacher—and their spouses; two grandchildren— Charlotte Merzbacher and Reid Merzbacher; two "surrogate" grandchildren—Helen and Michael Newton; and his sister, Dorothea Brander. He was predeceased by his daughter, Mary Merzbacher.
A memorial service will be held June 15 at 1 p.m. at the Community Church of Chapel Hill at 106 Purefoy Rd.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the TRIFORM Camphill Community (http://triform.org/
or 20 Triform Rd., Hudson NY 12534) or to the Merzbacher Fund for Graduate Studies (securely online via http://physics.unc.edu/donate/
, or to Chair, Dept. of Physics & Astronomy, Univ. of NC, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3255).