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In memoriam: Raymond J. Emrich, professor emeritus of physics

Raymond J. Emrich

Raymond Emrich, professor emeritus of physics whose 41-year tenure on Lehigh’s faculty included teaching, research, and sabbaticals in Germany, the Soviet Union and Turkey, died Sept. 7 at his home in Bethlehem. He was 87.

Emrich was a specialist in the physics of fluids who, his colleagues say, used logic and simplicity to approach and solve the complex problems of his field.

“Ray’s teaching both in class and in graduate degree mentorship was characterized by his insistence on precise measurement, clear explanation and concise writing,” said a memorial resolution written by Robert Folk, Yong Kim, Wesley Smith and Michael Stavola. The four are professors of physics; Stavola is also department chair.

“Ray practiced these rules to the letter himself, and he carried on with such structures in his scientific life,” the four professors wrote in the resolution. “He had an ability to make us think about what could be deemed intractable, difficult, complex problems in a simple, but logical way. He took an interest in younger faculty and never ceased to share his experiences and insights. Under his exacting facade, he had ample humor and a sense of skepticism about many fashionable ideas.”

Emrich, in a 1960 photo.

A native of Denver, Colorado, Emrich received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1938, and went to England to do doctoral work at the University of Cambridge. Under the tutelage of Sir Lawrence Bragg, the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Emrich built a cyclotron, or circular device that uses an alternating electric field to generate and accelerate charged subatomic particles.

With the onset of World War II in 1939, Emrich left England and returned to Princeton, where he did anti-tank ballistics research and received a Presidential Citation for his work. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1946 and joined Lehigh’s faculty that year. His four decades on the faculty included 10 years as department head of physics. He retired from Lehigh in 1987.

During his tenure on the faculty, Emrich spent four years abroad teaching and doing research, including a year and a half in Germany, six months in Minsk in the Soviet Union, a year at Istanbul Technical University in Turkey, and a year in Novosibirsk, Siberia, where he was a Fulbright Senior Fellow.

In his field, Emrich investigated high-speed flows that accompany shock waves near solid boundaries. He pioneered the techniques of using sub-micron tracer particles to measure fluid flows at distances as small as a micron from the wall. He developed and perfected new techniques of flow visualization, including the imaging of vortices in hurricanes and other phenomena. During his year in Novosibirsk, he began a study of the explosive vaporization of liquid carbon dioxide which he continued after his return to Lehigh.

Emrich was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1953 and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1980. He served as program chair of the 1957, 1967 and 1977 annual meetings of APS’s Division of Fluid Dynamics, which were all held at Lehigh.

During his tenure as head of the physics department, his colleagues noted in their memorial resolution, Emrich oversaw the 1962 renovation of the Physics Building (now called the Deming Lewis Laboratory after its 1986 renovation) and the hiring of numerous faculty members.

Emrich received the university’s R.R. and E.C. Hillman Award in 1984. He served as secretary of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, now the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, until his retirement from the faculty in 1987.

“Ray Emrich brought lasting visibility and distinction to the university,” Folk, Kim, Smith and Stavola wrote in the memorial resolution. “His life was a personification of the Lehigh Physics Department and his conduct a signature testimony of what it means to be a student or faculty member.

“We take great satisfaction in having consumed his dry humor, having been instructed and helped by him, and having shared some part of our lives together as colleagues and friends.”

Memorial contributions may be made to the Raymond J. Emrich Scholarship Fund at Lehigh.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Monday, October 31, 2005

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