Keith Randolph Symon

March 25, 1920 —  December 16, 2013

Professor Emeritus University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Physics

Keith graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Harvard in 1942 with a BA in Philosophy and Mathematics. In 1948 he was awarded a PhD in Physics. He taught physics at Wayne State University in Detroit until 1955. Keith was professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin until his retirement in 1992 when he became emeritus professor. From 1956 to 1967 he was on the staff of the Midwestern Universities Research Association (MURA), a collaboration of Big Ten universities, the University of Chicago and Notre Dame. In 1982 and1983 he was acting director of the Madison Academic Computing Center and from 1983 to 1985, acting director of the UW-Madison Synchrotron Radiation Center. His textbook, Mechanics, has been a staple in physics classes since publication of the first edition in 1953. It has been published in multiple languages and is still in use around the world. His students appreciated his depth of knowledge for clear explanations while encouraging independent explorations of their own.

Keith was awarded the Particle Accelerator and Technology Award of the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Science Society in 2003 and the American Physical Society Robert R. Wilson Prize in 2005. With four colleagues from around the country, he published Innovation Was Not Enough A History of the Midwestern Universities Research Association, in 2010. Keith was an internationally recognized figure in plasma physics and particle accelerator design, developing the FFAG (fixed field alternating gradient) accelerator concept in parallel with physicist colleagues. He contributed to the work at Fermi Lab, Argonne National Laboratory (he chaired the Argonne Accelerator Users Group in the 60s), Brookhaven National Lab, labs in Los Alamos and La Jolla, and did early research for the Hadron collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, where he and his family lived for a year in 1962-1963. His work took him to Europe, Japan, China, India, Russia, and Australia. He taught himself useful French, German, Dutch, Russian, and some Chinese.

Keith and his wife, Mary Louise, always supported and participated in groups to further peace around the world and at home, equal opportunities for all, and conservation of our natural environment. They instilled a dedication to community service in their four children. Keith loved camping, canoeing, sailing, and skiing with family and friends. He had been an Eagle Scout, later becoming a Scoutmaster and introducing his sons to scouting. In his late teens he was nationally ranked in youth doubles tennis. He was handy at building things, involved with remodeling and building two houses, small boat building, and building radio and hifi equipment. He enjoyed retirement on the family's rural property in Spring Green. One of his students told the family "We have lost a giant."

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Submitted by: Judy Symon Hanson


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