Klystron pioneer and physicist Marvin Chodorow dead at 92

Marvin Chodorow

Marvin Chodorow

Marvin Chodorow, an emeritus professor of applied physics and electrical engineering, died peacefully at his home on campus on Oct. 17 of natural causes at age 92. He helped pioneer the development of the klystron tube, which generates and amplifies high-frequency electromagnetic waves. These tubes—invented at Stanford in 1937 by brothers Russell and Sigurd Varian using an invention of Professor William Hansen—are of essential use in radar, particle accelerators, satellite communications systems and medical technology.

"Marvin was the leading figure in transmitting the lore of klystrons from industry to the Stanford community," said Wolfgang K.H. "Pief" Panofsky, director emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and a close friend of Chodorow's. "In doing this, he deserves most of the credit for the spectacular increase in klystron tube power which was achieved during the 1940s from watts to megawatts. He supervised Ph.D. students for about four decades, with most of the students still serving Stanford or the local industrial community. He was a person of enormous kindness, willing to help anyone who approached him for assistance. He is one of the 'godfathers' of the field of microwave technology at Stanford."

Chodorow's main research was in the theory and design of microwave and traveling wave tubes. This work had a global legacy, leading to the development of a series of devices crucial to sophisticated radar systems.

The first multi-megawatt klystrons, which he designed and tested, were used for a linear electron accelerator at Stanford from 1947 to 1951. Later versions were used in SLAC's two-mile-long atom smasher as well as in medical accelerators that today treat 100,000 cancer patients each day in the United States alone.

"The linear accelerator and storage rings that are the heart of SLAC's research still today rely critically on the use of very high-power klystrons," said current SLAC Director Jonathan Dorfan. "The legacy remains central to the success of accelerator research worldwide."

Chodorow also worked in microwave acoustics and quantum electronics. One project with professors Calvin Quate and Bertram A. Auld built an acoustic microscope to image living cells in action using sound waves.

Chodorow also developed courses in electron and ion dynamics and microwave electronics. He continued research and teaching past the age of 65, but at a "retirement" party in 1978, Stanford Vice President and Provost William F. Miller called him "one of those who brought on the first blooming of the university after World War II that brought Stanford to national and international standing as one of the great universities of the world." At that party, Professor Edward L. Ginzton, then Chairman of the Board of Varian Associates, pointed out that klystron royalties largely paid for Stanford's Varian Physics Building and the Hansen laboratories and added: "Microwaves are indispensable to our society for communications, television, the navigation of ships and aircraft and for defense. Most of these systems would not be practical today were it not for the contributions [Chodorow] has made."

Chodorow was born in Buffalo, N.Y., on July 16, 1913. He received his bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Buffalo in 1934. In 1936, while in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he met social worker Leah Ruth Turitz, whom he married in 1937. He obtained his doctorate in physics in 1939. His thesis introduced what is now known as "the Chodorow Potential," recognized as a seminal solution of Schroedinger's equation for electrons in metals.

His early career was spent as a research associate at Pennsylvania State College (1940-1941), a physics instructor at the College of the City of New York (1941-1943) and a senior project engineer (1943-1947) at Sperry Gyroscope Company, where he worked with Sigurd and Russell Varian, Ed Ginzton, Bill Hansen, Myrl Stearns, Don Snow and Fred Salisbury. In 1948, this small group of engineers and physicists would go on to found Varian Associates in Palo Alto, Calif.

In 1947, Chodorow left Sperry for Stanford, joining the Physics Department as an assistant professor and becoming an associate professor in 1950 and a professor in 1954. Beginning in 1954, he also held a professorship in the department of electrical engineering. From 1959 to 1978, he directed the Microwave Laboratory, which in 1976 was renamed the Edward L. Ginzton Laboratory.

From 1962 to 1968, Chodorow was executive head of the Division of Applied Physics. In 1968, at the instigation of Chodorow and former Dean of Research Hu Heffner, a separate Department of Applied Physics was created. Chodorow became the department's first chair while continuing to direct the Microwave Lab. In 1975, he became the Barbara Kimball Browning Professor of Applied Physics.

"Marvin was a visionary," said Theodore H. Geballe, the Theodore and Sydney Rosenberg Professor of Applied Physics and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Emeritus. "With humor and charm he left an indelible mark in the university by creating a whole new department."

Sensing the golden age of solid state (now condensed matter) physics, Chodorow tried to convince his Stanford colleagues to make new appointments in solid state physics. "He was finally given authorization—but only for one billet," Geballe recalled. "His problem was that he had two promising candidates and couldn't choose between them. In order to comply with the Physics Department's strict limit of only one appointment in physics, he was given permission to make both appointments, but the second would have to be in a new division [Applied Physics]. Marvin did just that. His two promising candidates were Art Schawlow [who went on to win the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics] and Cal Quate [a developer of the atomic force microscope]. In 1961 Art went to Physics and Cal to the new division." In succeeding years Chodorow recruited luminaries including Arthur Bienenstock [now dean of research], Walter Harrison [now an emeritus professor] and Geballe.

"Marvin's intense interest in his colleagues and his undisguised pleasure in their achievements, made the Ginzton lab a special place and a strong contributor to Stanford throughout the '60s and '70s," Geballe said. "His colleagues had a deep affection for Marvin and will miss him."

Chodorow continued a close and involved association with Varian Associates as a consultant from its founding until his retirement. The company—one of Silicon Valley's early success stories—specialized in the manufacture of high-powered klystrons that enabled the research and development of linear accelerators worldwide and treatment of cancer using radiation.

A lecturer at the Ecole Normale Superieur in Paris (1955-1956) and Fulbright Fellow at Cambridge University (1962-1963), Chodorow received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Glasgow in 1972. His other awards include the W.R.G. Baker Award from the Institute of Radio Engineers (1962) and the Lamme Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE (1989).

With Charles Susskind, Chodorow co-authored a book, Fundamentals of Microwave Electronics, published in 1964. He held at least a dozen patents and wrote about 40 technical articles.

He was a Fellow of IEEE, the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association of University Professors, the American Association of Physics Teachers and Sigma Xi.

Chodorow served as an adviser to the Office of Naval Research and as a consultant to the Department of Defense, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, the Rand Corp. and other companies. He also worked in support of human rights for exiled Soviet scientists and arms control.

Colleagues characterize Chodorow, an avid Stanford sports fan, as warm and charming, with broad interests and a wide circle of friends.

He is survived by his wife, Leah Ruth Turitz Chodorow of Stanford; daughters Nancy Julia Chodorow of Cambridge, Mass., and Joan Elizabeth Chodorow of Venice, Calif.; and two grandchildren: Rachel Chodorow-Reich of Oakland and Gabriel Chodorow-Reich of Washington, D.C.

Donations in Chodorow's memory may be directed to Stanford University's Chodorow Fellows Program, c/o Martin W. Shell, Vice President for Development, Frances Arrillaga Alumni Center, 326 Galvez St., Stanford 94305.

Plans for a memorial service are pending.