Alan Jay Lazarus, Senior Research Scientist at MIT, died peacefully in his home in Lexington, Massachusetts on March 13, 2014, of complications of Lewy-body dementia and with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. He was 82.
Alan was born in San Francisco on October 24, 1931 to Lawrence H. Lazarus and Rose Kauffman Lazarus. His early education in California schools, completed with a year at Phillips Andover Academy (1949), developed in him a love for learning, especially science. He earned degrees at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (S.B. 1953, in Physics), and Stanford University (Ph.D. 1958, in High Energy Physics).
In 1959 he began a career of over 50 years at MIT where he joined pioneers in space research to study space physics, focusing particularly on space plasma and the solar wind. At MIT’s Center for Space Research (now Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research), Alan helped develop instruments for over 20 spacecraft missions to learn about the solar wind, including one on board the Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, which this past fall was the first man-made object to travel beyond our solar system. Instruments he developed today provide continuous measurements of the solar wind plasma that buffets Earth, as well as the distant boundary between solar plasma and the interstellar medium. In 1974-1975 he was Staff Scientist at NASA’s Office of Space Science, High Energy Astrophysics. He was the lead or co-author on over 200 scientific papers.
He was Principal Investigator for a solar wind experiment on SOL-RAD 11, Co-Investigator for a solar wind plasma experiment utilizing Faraday cup sensors on Explorers 10, 18, 33, and 35 (for Earth magnetosphere studies) and Mariner 4 (Mars), Mariner 5 (Venus), Mariner 10 (Venus/Mercury), Pioneers 6 and 7, Voyagers 1 and 2 probes and planetary encounter missions, the WIND spacecraft, whose current orbit is roughly at 240 Earth radii and which sends daily solar wind data every 90 seconds to observe interplanetary shocks and other phenomena, IMP, OGO-1, OGO 3, and the Giotto probe to Halley’s comet.
Al’s DSCOVR Faraday Cup is scheduled to fly in early 2015 as a real time beacon for NOAA space weather forecasting. This instrument, because it will be sun-pointed and make fast measurements, will be a prototype for a Faraday Cup on Solar Probe, on which he is a Co-Investigator, scheduled for 2018.
Alan was a beloved colleague to his MIT compatriots, to the many graduate students and senior thesis students he mentored, and to the wider space physics community, nationally and internationally. One colleague said, “I really can’t think of another person in our field who would so frequently bring a smile to people’s faces as they remembered a time he helped them out, often as a student or post-doc just getting started, and often without asking or expecting anything in return. He really would help anyone who asked.”
In addition to his research position, Dr. Lazarus was a Senior Lecturer in MIT’s Physics Department. He cared deeply about his students and worked to bring delight to their learning experiences, in the first- and second-year physics courses taken by all MIT students (8.01 and 8.02), at more sophisticated levels, and by working to develop innovative teaching methods, from running a modern physics laboratory course for physics majors that introduced students to techniques of classical and modern physics, to serving as Co-Director of MIT’s Integrated Studies Program. In 1963 he was the first recipient of MIT’s Everett Moore Baker Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching, and in 1998 received the Department of Physics’ William W. Buechner Faculty Award for Teaching.
Always ready to share his experience and love of MIT, Alan was a caring and devoted faculty advisor to many, and from 1977-1980 was MIT’s Associate Dean of Students in Charge of Freshman Advising, where he was instrumental in the creation of the Undergraduate Academic Support Office.
Alan enjoyed swimming, sailing, and the rich atmosphere of MIT’s collegial community. He loved music, art, and culture, good food and drink, and the company of friends and family.
Lexington was Alan’s home for 43 years. He was an active member of the community, serving as an elected Town Meeting member for 30 years and on various town boards and committees, from Appropriations to Hanscom Field Advisory. He was Chair of the group that founded LexMedia, the town television station. He also was deeply interested in the town schools, especially in their teaching of science, and served on the school system’s Science Advisory Council and as a judge for the high school’s science fairs.
Father of Julia Selena Lazarus of Providence, Rhode Island, he was ready to offer fatherly comfort and advice to all who needed it. A gentle man who respected and was respected by all, Alan will be missed also by his wife of 43 years, Marianne (Mazen) Lazarus, sister and brother-in-law Louise and Pieter de Vries of San Rafael, CA, nieces Lynn Tennefoss, Nan Chrostek, Joan de Vries, nephew Mike Tennefoss, and their children Josh Tennefoss, Claire, Jasmine, and Mariel Rossi de Vries, and Matthew and John Chrostek.
As Alan always said he wanted a party instead of a funeral, please join his family in a celebration in his honor on Saturday, April 12, at the historical Depot, 13 Depot Square, Lexington, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. (RSVP to Marianne, 781-861-0093.)