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March 8, 2018

Obituary: Edward Gerjuoy

Edward Gerjuoy, emeritus professor of physics and astronomy in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, died Jan. 31, 2018, at 99 following a long and varied career as a theoretical physicist, environmental lawyer and human rights activist.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Gerjuoy studied quantum mechanics at the University of California-Berkeley under Robert Oppenheimer (known as “father of the atomic bomb”), earning his Ph.D. in 1941. Not wishing to be involved in Oppenheimer’s atomic weapons research, Gerjuoy chose to work in a shipyard during World War II and then moved to New London, Connecticut, to research new Navy sonar technology. He helped develop anti-submarine strategies for Allied destroyers.

He joined the University of Southern California faculty in 1946, then discovered Pittsburgh during the summer of 1952, when he worked at Westinghouse Laboratory. That fall, he became a University of Pittsburgh faculty member.

After a stint back in industry beginning in 1958 — at the General Atomics Laboratory in San Diego and RCA Labs in Princeton, working on plasma physics — Gerjuoy returned to Pitt as a full professor in 1964. He researched nonrelativistic collision theory and electron-atom collisions through the early 1970s.

After spending a sabbatical year in 1974 as a first-year law student at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, he enrolled in Pitt’s School of Law and graduated in 1977. He was appointed to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board by Gov. Richard Thornburgh in 1981 and served until 1987. Gerjuoy was editor-in-chief of the American Bar Association’s Jurimetrics: The Journal of Law, Science, and Technology for six years, published a number of legal papers concerning the qualifications of scientific expert witnesses and worked on environmental law cases for the Pittsburgh law firm Rose Schmidt, 1987 to 2002.

Gerjuoy was also involved with several prominent human rights cases, including serving on the defense team for Los Alamos employee Wen Ho Lee, who had been accused of espionage.

Physics and astronomy department chair Arthur B. Kosowsky noted that Gerjuoy’s contributions to their field continued long after his retirement. Starting in 2002, when he was named emeritus professor, Gerjuoy began his sixth decade of research by investigating the theory of quantum computing. One of his last articles, “Memories of Julian Schwinger,” concerning his former classmate, a Nobel Prize winner, appeared in the Asian Journal of Physics in 2014.

Professor Emeritus Ezra “Ted” Newman recalled his longtime departmental colleague as “the sweetest cantankerous person I’ve known” and “bigger than life.”

“He was one of the most fascinating characters I have ever known,” Newman said. “He had many, many moods, but Ed was an extraordinarily decent person. He was always for the downtrodden.”

Newman also noted that Gerjuoy was the first to welcome him to Pitt by inviting Newman to his home: “It was very, very lovely. I’ve had a good time with Ed for 60 years.”

Gerjuoy was married for 65 years to the late Jacqueline Reid, and is survived by sons Neil and Leif.


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