Howard Shugart, 1931-2016

A leading physics educator has died

April 21, 2016
Obituary: Howard Shugart, 1931-2016
Source: Physics at Berkeley

Howard Shugart was born in Orange, California on 21 September 1931 and studied for his BSc in physics at the California Institute of Technology (1953). 

He had already been passionate about the subject for many years and once claimed that he had known he wanted to be a physicist from the age of five.

The epiphany came when his father gave him a train set connected by cables to a car battery outside, and he soon expanded it dramatically, acquired more batteries and created a complete railway line set in its own town and countryside. As his curiosity about electricity grew, he also started talking to the local “lineman” responsible for the cables and so developed an understanding of how the power grid for the whole city worked by the time he was seven.

On completing his first degree, Professor Shugart went on to the University of California, Berkeley for an MA (1955) and then a PhD (1957). He joined the physics department as a lecturer in the same year and was rapidly promoted to professor in 1959, remaining there until he retired and became emeritus in 1993.

An early enthusiast for the vital role that computers can play in physics, he used his time as vice-chair of the department (1980-87) to transform the advanced laboratory courses for physics majors, largely through bringing in computers and introducing simulations as well as new experiments to demonstrate the core principles.

A fellow of the American Physical Society (as well as the National Speleological Society), Professor Shugart proved his credentials as a researcher in more than 130 scientific papers.

Appointed group leader of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab Atomic Beams Group in 1965, he developed particular expertise in fields such as low-energy nuclear physics and the determination of the mechanical and electromagnetic properties of nuclei and atoms.

Yet Professor Shugart was equally renowned as an educator, winning the second Donald Sterling Noyce Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1988 and being well known to the wider Berkeley community through his regular “Fun with Physics” lectures.

In 1992, he was nominated by his department for the university’s prestigious Berkeley Citation, which honours those whose “contributions to UC Berkeley go beyond the call of duty”, on the grounds of “outstanding achievements…attribut[able] to his great efficiency and energy”, but also for his impeccable integrity, courtesy and modesty, which is universally recognized and respected”. He was duly awarded the citation in 1993.

Professor Shugart died on 21 March and is survived by his wife Betty.

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