Noted Scientist and Educator Robert A. Gross Passes, Age 90

February 21, 2018

The World fusion, plasma physics and Columbia University engineering communities mourn the loss of Robert A. Gross, a noted scientist and educator. He passed away on February 8 at his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He was 90 years old.

Robert Gross joined Columbia University as a tenured professor in mechanical engineering in 1960, having already made significant contributions to the field of supersonic combustion and shock dynamics while an engineer at Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corp. His work in combustion was recognized with the Waverly Gold Medal for New Research and AIAA G. Pendray award.

At Columbia, he explored the emerging field of plasma physics and controlled fusion research. With C.K. "John" Chu, he co-founded in 1962 the Columbia Plasma Physics Laboratory which carried out sponsored research for 30 years and trained more than 100 scientists and engineers. He personally advised 25 doctoral students and wrote a seminal textbook, Fusion Energy (Wiley Interscience, 1984). He was also recognized for his excellence in teaching by the Society of Columbia Graduates who honored him in 1974 with the Great Teacher Award. Through his research, Gross became a worldwide authority in plasma shock phenomena and the equilibrium and stability of high pressure magnetized plasma systems. He served on numerous Department of Energy advisory committees that defined the direction of fusion power research in the United States.

After serving three years as founding chair of Columbia's department of applied physics and nuclear engineering and six years as chair of the mechanical engineering department, Gross was named the 11th dean of the Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Science, a post he held from 1982 to 1990. As dean, he established one of the first National Science and Technology Centers awarded by the National Science Foundation in the area of telecommunications research. Building on this initiative, Dean Gross envisioned a new research building to provide modern experimental research facilities for telecommunications, microelectronics, and computer and information systems. He successfully raised $36 million in a 40-year no-interest loan and $6 million gift from the State of New York, allowing Columbia to build a new research facility. Morris A. Schapiro Hall, or the Center for Engineering Physical Science Research, opened in 1992. He retired from Columbia University in 1995.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in 1949, Gross earned his PhD in applied physics from Harvard in 1952. Over the course of his career, he received numerous honors, including the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Fulbright-Hays Fellowship twice. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was honored for his life's work with Fusion Power Associates Distinguished Career Award in 1993. Professor Gross, whose wife Ellie is also deceased, is survived by two sons, David and John-Henry, daughters-in-law Betsy and Schon, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Friends and Colleagues may send remembrances and condolences to the family via: Jerry Navratil: gan2@columbia.edu or Mike Mauel: mem4@columbia.edu

A Memorial Service is planned for Thursday April 27, 6 PM, at St, Paul's Chapel, Morningside Heights Campus, Columbia University, 1160 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027. The service will be followed by a reception from 7 to 8 PM in the APAM Department, 200 Mudd, 500 W. 120th Street, New York. http://www.apam.columbia.edu Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by April 23 to the APAM Department: 212-854-4457.