Physics and engineering professor D. Allan Bromley, one of the world’s foremost nuclear physicists who served as the top science and technology advisor to President George H.W. Bush ’48 and founded Yale’s A.W. Wright Nuclear Structure Laboratory, died Thursday afternoon in New Haven. He was 79 years old.
Bromley died in his car early Thursday afternoon, after teaching his morning undergraduate lecture course, “Science, Technology and Public Policy,” and eating lunch at the New Haven Lawn Club, professors and administrators said. Bromley appeared to be in normal health while lecturing that morning in Dunham Laboratory, according to students.
During his career as a physicist and public-policy expert, Bromley published over 500 papers and edited or authored 20 books. He served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and received a number of prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Science in 1998. In more than four decades of teaching at Yale, Bromley served as dean of the Faculty of Engineering from 1994 to 2000 and as chairman of the Physics Department from 1970 to 1977.
Yale President Richard Levin said Bromley was a groundbreaking scientist and a great campus leader who played an instrumental role in shaping physics and engineering at the University.
“In three successive careers, he built our Physics Department, served the nation with distinction and thoroughly revitalized engineering at Yale,” Levin said. “With intelligence, energy and enthusiasm he inspired countless students and colleagues. Where he led, we willingly followed.”
Bromley, a pioneer in the study of the structure and dynamics of nuclei, was considered the “father of modern heavy ion science” and was influential in bringing the particle accelerator to Yale in 1972. He was the first person named the Sterling Professor of the Sciences, the highest rank a professor can achieve.
Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton praised Bromley for his dedication to undergraduate teaching. Even at the age of 79, Bromley was full of ideas and innovations, said Hamilton, himself a scientist and former chairman of the Chemistry Department.
“Allan Bromley was a giant who bestrode the worlds of physics and engineering with vision, dynamism and impact,” Hamilton said. “He was as comfortable in the corridors of power as he was in the halls of academia, and he left a remarkable legacy in both.”
Bromley’s class will continue to meet this semester, and the administration is in the midst of finding a professor to take over Bromley’s course, Physics Department chairman Ramamurti Shankar said. While it would be relatively easy to find a replacement professor for a pure physics course, it will be harder to find someone to fill Bromley’s shoes because his course is a “very unusual course on the interface of science and politics,” Shankar said.
“The class has to go on,” Shankar said. “We’re looking at who will do it. I think it’s a very important thing we have to do. On the one hand we’re dealing with the loss of a colleague; on the other hand we know the course must go on.”
As Bush’s chief science and technology advisor, Bromley expanded the cooperative relationship between the government and private sector regarding the effective use of technology.
Even as one of the world’s most eminent physicists, Bromley still was personable and approachable, his colleagues and students said.
For instance, while advising the White House, Bromley still taught the introductory undergraduate course “Developments in Modern Physics,” physics professor and director of undergraduate studies Sean Barrett said. Bromley went beyond the call of duty and took a number of proactive measures to improve the course last fall, such as increasing the number of class demonstrations.
“Despite the fact that he was such an eminent physicist who could have retired and rested on his laurels, he took it as a personal challenge to really improve this course, which is intended for people who probably aren’t going to be science majors,” Barrett said.
Physics professor Tom Appelquist, a former dean of the Graduate School, said he was convinced to join the Yale faculty because of Bromley’s personal warmth and commitment to the Physics Department.
“He was chairman when I was recruited here, and he and his wife were extremely gracious folks,” Appelquist said. “I think his presence here is one of the main reasons I came to Yale.”
Bromley’s students also praised him for his approachability and dedication to teaching.
One of Bromley’s former students, Richard Casten GRD ’67 — now a physics professor and director of the Wright Nuclear Structure Laboratory, which Bromley founded — said Bromley was “absolutely amazing” as a teacher and mentor.
“He was always busy even then, but he always made time for his students,” Casten said. “And he had an uncanny ability to know what physics problem you were having trouble with, he would understand what your question was, and also he had a way of getting into your mind, suddenly making it all clear.”
Brett Edkins ’06, one of the students in Bromley’s science and public-policy class this semester, said he would remember Bromley for his personal qualities in addition to his scholarly accomplishments.
“He was just a world-class scientist and a great mind of public policy,” Edkins said. “He was extremely personal, extremely approachable and always encouraging.”
Indeed, Bromley remained dedicated to his teaching and to his students even in the last hours of his life, Hamilton said.
“This morning, as I hurried down Hillhouse for a meeting, I saw Allan coming out of Dunham — of course, wearing his signature bow tie — after giving a lecture,” Hamilton said. “I think he would be pleased that he spent part of the last day of his life doing what he really loved — teaching physics to Yale undergraduates.”
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