John Broadhurst, 1935 - 2023

Professor Emeritus John Broadhurst of the School of Physics and Astronomy passed away on October 17th , 2023. He was 88 years old. John was born in England in 1935 and received all of his degrees from the University of Birmingham, where he was also a Research Staff Fellow. John first visited the School in 1965 while on sabbatical, and he was instrumental in the construction and commissioning of the “Emperor” van de Graaf accelerator. He was appointed to the faculty as an associate professor in 1968, was promoted to professor in 1975, and he retired from the regular faculty in 2015. 

John had an extremely broad portfolio of technical skills, as was apparent to those who relied on the van de Graaf accelerator for research in nuclear physics. John’s expertise included high-voltage operation, electronics, ion sources, beam optics, particle detection, data acquisition, target fabrication, and more. His colleague Ben Bayman also recalls how John developed a method for controlling damaging high-voltage discharges, greatly improving the stability and reliability of the beam over the lifetime of the facility.

John applied his skills to a remarkable range of problems in physics. Working with his colleague George Greenlees, he used the recently developed dye laser to search for rare isotopes using high-precision optical spectroscopy. During this period of the 1970’s John also became interested in medical physics. Over the latter part of his career he studied the physiology of the way the brain processes sight and sound signals (via magnetic encephalography using superconducting quantum interference detectors), and the use of implanted radio-isotopes to enhance the effectiveness of radiation treatment of cancers. He continued to work in this area into his retirement. 

To anyone who worked in the School, John was a reservoir of knowledge, which he provided readily, often accompanied by an amusing anecdote. This was in part related to the breadth of his own scientific activities but extended to topics such as aviation, automotive technology, building construction, radio and television repair, or welding. His colleague Jim Kakalios recalled a memorable exposition on the choice of wood for archer’s bows in the Middle Ages (apparently yew was superior). Along with this store of knowledge, John maintained a collection of equipment accumulated over many decades and generations of technology. This was always available for student projects. 

John was an enthusiastic teacher who enjoyed teaching medical physics as well as sharing his knowledge with students in introductory physics. He brought his combination of interests to bear in a seminar “From Bongo to Brain” that he developed for honors students.

John is survived by his wife Leni and daughter Nina. He was predeceased by his daughter Denise.