UCI Fusion Pioneer Norman Rostoker Passes at 89

uci_news_image_downloadUCI professor emeritus Norman Rostoker, considered the father of breakthrough nuclear fusion energy techniques, died on Christmas Day in Irvine.

Among the first generation of fusion pioneers, Rostoker was driven by using fusion as a source of almost unlimited, nonpolluting energy for humankind. While he was at UCI, he pursued a new approach to fusion based on fundamental new insights. As fusion research was being declassified and the field was emerging, he published seminal papers that served as the foundations for plasma physics. Credited as an inventor on 27 patents involving plasma-based fusion reactors, Rostoker is responsible for the concept of using collective plasma fields to assist in ion acceleration.

Along with with prominent physicists, such as the University of Florida’s Dr. Hendrik J. Monkhorst and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Glenn Seaborg, Rostoker co-founded Tri Alpha Energy (TAE) in 1998 with the goal of developing a clean source of fusion-based energy.

“I have been forever grateful for his kind humanly reception of me at Irvine, his rigorous training of me, his instilling into me his fundamental value and keeping mentorship and friendship with me over 40 years,” said Toshiki Tajima, a former student of Rostoker’s who currently holds the Norman Rostoker Chair Professorship in Applied Physics and is chief science officer at TAE.

“I never found a faculty of his stature with such childlike simplicity and humility,” said Ramanad Singh, a former safety coordinator for the physical sciences department.

Rostoker’s early physics research included his important contributions to solid-state physics theory, including the widely used KKR (Korringa-Kohn-Rostoker) method.

Rostoker was married for 65 years to Helen Corinne Rostoker, who died in April 2014. The two met at a bus stop while Rostoker was her physics teaching assistant at the University of Toronto. They are survived by their four children, Stephen Rostoker, Ruth Forton, Linda Rostoker and Rachel Uchizono, as well as grandchildren Lisa Servedio, Nolan Uchizono and Kellen Uchizono, and one great-grandchild, Sofia Servedio.

Rostoker was born Aug. 16, 1925, in Toronto, Canada, and earned a master’s degree at the University of Toronto in 1947. After receiving a D.Sc. in 1950 from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, he served on the scientific staff there until 1953. Afterward, he worked at the Armour Research Foundation at the Illinois Institute of Technology and at General Atomics before joining UC San Diego as a faculty member in 1962. In 1967, he moved to Cornell University as the IBM Professor of Engineering.

He came to UCI in 1972 and chaired the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1973 to 1976.

Among his many distinctions, he was honored with the American Physical Society’s James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics, the UCI Medal and membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Remembrances for the late professor can be posted at http://ps.uci.edu/memorial/rostoker. A memorial service will be held on Jan. 24 in Irvine. For information, contact Tatiana Arizaga at 949-824-0218 or tarizaga@uci.edu.