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4-decade physics professor, 88, dies


By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 21, 2004
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Leon Blitzer, an influential UA physics professor for more than 40 years, died Monday at age 88.

Daniel Stein, head of the department of physics, said Blitzer's passing is a sad occasion, as he built a significant foundation of scientific research at the UA.

"I enjoyed knowing him very much," Stein said. "He played an important role in the early history of the department."

Blitzer, who was raised in New York, came to the UA in 1936 for his bachelor's and master's degrees in physics. He went on to earn a doctorate from California Institute of Technology in 1943 before returning to the UA as a member of the faculty.

Because Blitzer had lived through five decades of UA history by 1984, he wrote a booklet about his experiences at the UA beginning in 1936, along with the history and growth of the physics department.

Titled "Skeletons Out of the Closet: An Anecdotal History of the UA Physics Department," Blitzer's booklet discusses the early years of the physics department, which opened its doors to students in 1892 with a one-man faculty and a single course.

The booklet also has interesting anecdotes, such as how around World War II, the physics department was composed of only three professors, had one phone in the hallway, and a secretary who would come in for two to three hours per week, Stein said.

"It's quite a long way from where we are today," Stein said. "At one point, (Blitzer) was probably 33 percent of the department."

Roald Wangsness, a fellow UA professor emeritus of physics, said Blitzer was always approachable and a good listener.

"I was always very impressed with his strong feeling that a university should be a community of scholars," Wangsness said. "This is a point of view that is rapidly disappearing."

Blitzer's research focused on spectroscopy, astrophysics and celestial mechanics. He also worked for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Navy research center, and was a member of the Faculty Senate.

Although Blitzer retired in 1986, Stein said he remained active in the department for years, attending faculty meetings, advising undergraduates and mentoring university physics teachers.

In addition to scientific endeavors, Blitzer was a philanthropist and one of the founders of the Southern Arizona Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Betty Knott, director of development for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona, said although she never met Blitzer, she knew of his years of support for the foundation.

"We appreciate and commend the work done here by volunteers for the many years prior to a foundation office being established in 2001," Knott said.

Other charitable activities Blitzer was involved with included cerebral palsy research and Congregation Anshei Israel.

However, after Blitzer suffered a stroke in 1996, his health continued to deteriorate, Stein said.

Blitzer's memorial service was yesterday at Evergreen Mortuary, 30115 N. Oracle Road.

Survivors include Pauline Blitzer, his wife of 62 years, his children Charles and Miriam and four grandchildren.



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