Leon Madansky, 77, Hopkins professor whose research led to particle detector

March 24, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Leon Madansky, the former Johns Hopkins University physics chairman whose research led to the construction of a particle detector, died Saturday of a heart ailment in London. He was on vacation and collapsed after attending a play at a West End theater.

He was 77 and lived in Northwest Baltimore.

Known as a physics professor who also attended concerts and art openings, he conducted research in the 1960s that led to the construction of the spark chamber, a scientific device for detecting radiation or elementary particles.

"In an age of specialists, Leon was one of the last generalists," said Aihud Pevsner, a Hopkins physics professor. "He was one of the broadest, the deepest and the most intuitive physicists in every field, prompting many researchers, including Nobel winners, to seek his opinion."

Dr. Madansky arrived at the Hopkins physics department in 1948 to begin what became a 51-year association with the school. Named the Alonzo Decker professor of science and engineering in 1975, he was physics chairman from 1965 to 1968 and retired last year.

As atomic physics started to fade in prominence, Dr. Madansky forecast the directions his discipline would take -- nuclear physics, particle physics, astronomy and astrophysics.

Popular with students -- he received an award in the 1960s for his teaching -- he also oversaw the hiring of new faculty members.

"He was a man of vision who started a number of our department's programs," said Thomas Fulton, a Hopkins physics professor. "He played an instrumental role in the hiring of so many of our leading staff members."

Fulton said he also passed on his knowledge in the many specialties of physics to his students, describing the latest results and challenging them to think about the questions those results raised.

"He would roam the halls, seek out and talk to people," said Hopkins physics professor Gordon Feldman. "He had a great mind and was a fantastic person."

In recent years, Dr. Madansky spent his summers conducting research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Palo Alto, Calif. He was also a scientist at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider Center at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. The collider will help scientists understand what happened at the time of the Big Bang, widely accepted among physicists as the origin of the universe.

Friends recalled Dr. Madansky as a cultured man and good conversationalist who enjoyed the arts. He attended plays and opera, enjoying the music of Verdi and Puccini. He often spent free time at art museums and each year visited an exhibit at the Tate Gallery in London.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he was reared in Liberty, N.Y., and earned undergraduate and doctorate degrees from the University of Michigan.

During World War II he served in the Navy and conducted scientific research in Washington.

In 1947, he married Rena Goldstein, a sculptor and teacher.

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Charles Madansky of Brewster, Mass.; a daughter, Dr. Deborah L. Madansky of Sebastopol, Calif.; and five grandchildren.

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