Bernard Marie Karel NefkensJuly 27, 1934 — January 10, 2014
Experimental Nuclear and Particle Physicist Bernard M. K. (Ben) Nefkens died peacefully at his home in Sherman Oaks, CA, January 10, 2014, at the age of 79 after a long illness. Ben was born in the Netherlands where he received his PhD from the University of Utrecht before moving on to research faculty positions at Purdue University and the University of Illinois. In 1966 he settled at UCLA where he remained for the next 45 years. Throughout his scientific career he received the strong encouragement and support from his wife Helen who survives Ben with their three children Julie, Karla and Chuck, and their four grandchildren.
Ben authored over 250 scholarly publications and was honored as a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of the Netherlands, and a member of the New York Academy of Sciences. He was a long-standing member of both the APS and European Physical Society, and received appointments as a Saclay Visiting Scientist (1978-79 and 1988-89), a CERN Visiting Scientist (1972-73), and a recipient of a Fulbright Travel Grant (1959). He was as a consultant and member of the CELSIUS/WASA project at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, where he also served on the Program Advisory Committee. Ben was co-founder and editor of the Pion-Nucleon Newsletter, and co-founder of the International Conference on Meson and Nucleon Physics (MENU) series. His diverse research interests included an array of topics in nuclear and particle physics, making him a valuable organizer and member of Program Committees of over eighteen International Conferences and Workshops.
Ben's research was funded by the USDOE continuously from 1966 until the time of his retirement. He supervised many excellent graduate students during his career. He and his students and post-docs spend much time at accelerator facilities such as LAMPF (Los Alamos), TRIUMF (Vancouver), Bates (Boston), and abroad at ELSA (Bonn), SATURNE (Saclay), MAMI (Mainz) and PNPI (GATCHINA). Recent PhDs have found research and academic positions in such places as the University of Chicago, Texas A&M, Fermi Lab, BNL, and RPI.
At UCLA Ben taught both on the undergraduate as well as graduate levels. He had a strong interest in improving the quality of the physics laboratories and created a popular laboratory course that deals with the measurement of the properties of everyday objects around the UCLA campus instead of standard textbook measurements, which may at times seem rather dull to some students. As a teacher, he had an infectious enthusiasm and a caring empathy for his students. Rigorous training in the fundamentals is the sign of a Nefkens PhD student.
Ben's research involved the study of the structure of the nucleon and probing the Standard Model via tests of broken symmetries such as P, C, T, and CP. Throughout the 1980s, this work was carried out in large part at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he led a collaboration of several universities in a series of experiments that resulted in the complete high-precision measurement of the pion-nucleon scattering process at intermediate energies. In a second experimental study at LANL he produced the most complete study to date on time-reversal invariance in pion-3-body nucleus system during which he coined the term "superratio". At TRIUMF, in Vancouver, Canada, he was responsible for a unique set of neutron detectors that were used to study charge-symmetric reactions around the Delta resonance – these detectors are still in use at PNPI. At Saclay, near Paris, France, his research group studied decay modes of the eta meson, and at ELSA in Bonn, Germany, he worked on the photoproduction of the eta near threshold.
One of Ben's greatest achievements was the acquisition and refurbishing of the famous SLAC Crystal Ball multi-photon detector that was used extensively at SLAC and HERA. Ben took the "Ball" to Brookhaven National Laboratory to use at the AGS until the fixed target program ended in 2002. There, he formed and spearheaded an international collaboration of over 30 faculty and students from 12 institutions to carry out a program of pion-nucleon and kaon-nucleon scattering. In 2002, the Crystal Ball detector was once more moved to the MAMI facility in Mainz, Germany, where he formed a new collaboration consisting of over 50 faculty and students from 17 institutions. That research program continues on to this day.
Besides physics, Ben was interested in music and the arts. He gave wonderful colloquia on symmetries in nature, art and music. While at travel he always looked for local concerts and art expositions to go to. He judged the local churches by the quality of their organist and choir. Above all, Ben loved his family and, as he would say to his collaborators "highly recommended having and playing with grandchildren".
William J. Briscoe, The George Washington University
John W. Price, California State University Domingos Hills
Willem T.H. van Oers, University if Manatoba