Victor Philippe Henri

August 14, 1922 —  April 11, 2014

Victor P. Henri was born in Zurich, Switzerland, the son of Victor Henri (a professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Zurich) and Véra Vasilevna Lyapunova. French citizens, the family relocated to Marseilles, France in 1929, then to Liège, Belgium a year later when the father accepted a position at the Université de Liège.

In 1939 the family moved to Paris, due to the unstable situation in Europe. There, Victor P.'s father continued his scientific work in Louis Langevin's Industrial Physics and Chemistry (ESPCI) laboratories. When the Nazis invaded Belgium in May 1940, Victor P. met refugees at the railroad station in Paris and directed them to temporary quarters. In June Victor P. and his younger brother left by bicycle for Perigueux while their father, mother and sisters left by car (with a driver) for Toulouse, where EPCI laboratories were to be relocated. The trip, with convoys of refugees heading south, was difficult due to rainy weather and the necessity of taking refuge in ditches to escape machine gun fire from German planes. Their father contracted pneumonia and died in La Rochelle. The family reunited in Toulouse, where the siblings tried to continue their studies. The oldest sister left France in 1941 to pursue studies at Mount Hollyoke in Massachusetts, and the rest of the family left for the U.S. via Spain and Portugal in fall of 1942. Victor P., unable to obtain an exit permit due to military service age, remained in France.

In Toulouse Victor P. became involved in the French Resistance movement. After obtaining his Baccalauréat, he went to Lyon to undertake university studies, supporting himself as a tutor. His involvement with the resistance continued: passing out leaflets advising students not to cooperate with the Vichy government, sharing information about allied movements, and distributing false papers to enable French students to avoid being sent to Germany to work under a scheme established by the Vichy government. After Victor P.'s second academic year, he learned that male students had to submit to a physical examination in order to take their final exams. Those declared fit for service would be sent to build the Atlantic Wall fortifications and it was highly unlikely that a student would be declared unfit. Not wishing to work for the enemy, Victor P. acquired false papers that claimed that he was a soldier returned from capture in Germany and too ill to be kept by the Nazis. With these papers he was able to register in a town in southern France, and obtain a new identity card and ration coupons. Victor P. took on the name 'Henri Verger' and went to Paris, where the situation might be less precarious than in Lyon.

In Paris, 'Henri Verger' went to see Frederic Joliot-Curie who allowed him to join his lab at the Collège de France. He assisted Joliot with experiments, learned to prepare radioactive elements for Irène Curie's work, and took courses taught by Joliot and others. German physicists occupied part of the lab and used the cyclotron once a week. Due to the 'care' taken by the chief technician, the cyclotron frequently 'malfunctioned' on those days. Victor P. continued his resistance work with the Francs Tireurs et Partisans (FTP) and eventually learned that Joliot, who knew Henri Verger's true identity but kept it secret, was also involved in the movement. A small number of lab members were also involved in the resistance, building radios that Victor P. delivered by bicycle to groups around Paris. Eventually lab members also built grenades and Molotov cocktails that they used during the liberation of Paris, notably on the barricades in the Latin Quarter, but also to liberate the Police headquarters, and the area near the Senate. Victor P. was proud to have been involved in liberating the Education Ministry. By then the various resistance groups had united under the banner of the Forces Françaises de l'interieur (FFI) and it was only then that Victor P. learned which lab members had participated in the resistance. Immediately after General Philippe Leclerc's Armored Division arrived in Paris, a jeep carrying American army Colonel Boris Pash and civilian physicist Samuel Goudsmit pulled up at the College de France. They were the military chief and scientific head of the Alsos Mission (investigating the German nuclear energy project) and had come to see Joliot to get information about the uranium fission work being undertaken by German physicists. Joliot asked Victor P. to participate in the discussions and to serve as an interpreter. Unfortunately Joliot could only confirm what the Americans already knew. After the liberation, Victor P. joined the French Army. He was first attached to an operations research group and was later sent to Germany and Austria to attempt to recuperate scientific equipment that had been seized by the Nazis. He was in Lindau when he learned of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war he rejoined Joliot's lab. Joliot's classes were very much in demand after the atomic bombs were dropped and Victor P. and others in the lab were put into service to give talks and to write articles on nuclear energy and to explain the atomic bomb to the general public.

Victor P. Henri began his professional career as an Attaché de Recherches at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Laboratoire de Chimie Nucléaire, Collège de France, Paris, carrying out studies on artificial radioactivity. He was granted a National Institutes of Health Research Fellowship to study radiation effects on chemical substances in vapor form, which he carried out from 1947-1948 at the NIH's Physical Biology Laboratory in Bethesda, MD. This opportunity, one of the first NIH fellowships, allowed him to immigrate to the United States (but not without some delay in Ellis Island since the NIH was not yet on their list of approved sponsoring agencies!). He served as a Research Associate in the Department of Physics, Synchrotron Laboratory, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1949-1952, where he participated in the construction of the MIT electron synchrotron (300 MeV) and the construction of a Wilson chamber for measurement of µ decay. He was a lecturer and Research Associate in the Department of Physics at George Washington University from 1952-1955 where he taught physics majors and carried out measurements of lifetimes of very short excited states of nuclei. He was appointed Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor, in the Department of Physics at Northeastern University from 1955-1960 and was also a Senior Staff Member at Harvard University's Cambridge Electron Accelerator from 1958-1960, participating in the construction of the 6.5 GeV electron accelerator and carrying out magnetic field measurements under dynamic conditions.

From 1960-1962 he held a Louis de Broglie Fellowship with the French Commisariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA), Saclay and Laboratoire de Physique Atomique et Moléculaire, Collège de France, Paris, building K+ separated beams for bubble chamber experiments at Saclay (Saturne accelerator). He worked at CERN for nine years (1962-1971), holding the position of Visiting Scientist (Maître de Recherches, CNRS Grands Accélérateurs), then Senior Physicist, in the Track Chamber Division, participating in a variety of bubble chamber experiments and designing separated beams. In 1971-1972 he held a Physicist (P6) post in the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's Particle Data Group at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1972-1988 he was at the University of Mons-Hainaut (Belgium), first as a Senior Scientist in the Institut Interuniversitaire des Sciences Nucléaires attached to the Faculty of Sciences (Elementary Particles Physics), then as Professor in the Faculties of Medicine and Sciences, and finally as 'Professeur Ordinaire' (the highest rank in Belgium, akin to a 'Full Professor') and Chair of Experimental Physics and Nuclear Physics in the Faculties of Medicine and Science. During that time, he was also a Scientific Associate at CERN, doing experiments on charmed particles in 400 GeV pp interactions. He also did bubble chamber experiments (32 GeV K+p) at Serpukhov in the 1970s and was involved in two experiments at Fermilab (E299 and E743), the latter with the CERN Lexan chamber and the FNAL multi-particle spectrometer, on the production of charmed particles in 800 GeV pp interactions. From 1981-1987 he also served on the Administrative Council of the University of Mons-Hainaut. After retiring from the University of Mons, he served as Program Director for Elementary Particle Physics at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. (from 1988-1991).

He published over 130 articles in journals such as Physical Review, Nuclear Physics, and Nuovo Cimento and he delivered over 120 conference papers or reports, many published in conference proceedings. At the beginning of his career he wrote several popular science articles, explaining atomic structure and radioactivity. After he retired, he joined current events groups at the Albany and Berkeley Senior Centers in California, once again explaining scientific discoveries to a general public. He was a member of the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the European Physical Society, and the Sigma Xi honor society. In 1985 the King of Belgium dubbed him 'Commandeur de l'Ordre de la Couronne,'retroactive to 1977, in recognition of services rendered, and on the recommendation of the Belgian National Education Ministry.

Victor P. was a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. He retired to Albany, CA to be near several of his children. There he died peacefully at home at age 91, succumbing to cerebral vascular disease. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Christine Leuschner Henri, his son Philippe V. Henri of Berkeley, CA, his daughters Janine J. Henri of Los Angeles, CA, Marianne J. Henri of Albany, CA, Christiane V. Henri of Brussels, Belgium, his granddaughters Alia K. Jones of Phoenix, AZ, Kira J. Jones of San Diego, CA, Natalia M. Henri of New York City, Marissa Y. Henri of Berkeley, CA, his grandson Geoffrey K. Sanford of Austin, TX, his great-grandson Jasai D. Caldwell of Phoenix, AZ, his great-granddaughter Nina A. Mostafa of San Diego, CA, his sisters Hélène Durbin of San Francisco, CA, and Véra Gravier of Evian, France, as well as numerous nephews, nieces, and in-laws.

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Submitted by: Janine Henri


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Scitation: Victor Philippe Henri