Lawrence Badash: 1934-2010

Lawrence Badash: 1934-2010
Courtesy Photo

Larry Badash, UCSB professor emeritus and one of the nation’s most respected historians of science has passed after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. The author of seven books and numerous articles, Larry taught generations of students during his 36-year career at UCSB. Larry specialized in history of physics and specifically nuclear weapons. He served the Santa Barbara community as president and long time member of the ACLU. Larry also spent over a decade helping rescue children and lost hikers as a member of the Los Padres Search and Rescue Team. Many Sierra Club hikers will remember this kind, soft spoken man whose love of hiking extended from the Santa Ynez Mountains to the Sierras to trekking in the Himalayas.

Larry grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the younger of Dorothy Langa and Joseph Badash’s two sons. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he completed a BS in physics in 1956. At Rensselaer, Larry competed on the Lacrosse team. On occasion RPI faced a Syracuse team led by future Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown who played Lacrosse in the off-season. When he arrived at UCSB Larry brought his love of Lacrosse with him, founding what is now a thriving program. Larry attended RPI as a Naval ROTC student. This meant summer cruises and holystoning decks. Although he enjoyed the travel, Larry was not enamored with military protocol. After graduation Larry served three years as a Naval Aviator.

His obligation completed, Larry’s interest in physics led him to Yale University where he started as a physicist but was then drawn to the new program in history of science. At Yale, he met his advisor, Derek De Solla Price, and completed his PhD in1964. Larry arrived at UCSB in 1966 where he served as a professor for over three decades teaching courses in history of physical sciences. Larry did not have a traditional background in American or European History but this didn’t prevent him from finding a niche in the burgeoning Department of History. Junior Professors are expected to teach large core courses, usually including general U.S. History. Larry met this challenge by creating a unique general history of his own, calling it “The Atomic Age.”

Larry’s popular class on “The Bomb” introduced generations of students to nuclear physics and its application in the form of weapons. For almost four decades Larry’s students watched in horror as scientists moved the minute hand on the “Bulletin of Atomic Scientists” doomsday clock closer and closer to midnight. What general history course contemplates so succinctly the end of history? Larry’s unique course led to the publication of his book Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons: From Fission to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1939-1963 (1995). When Larry’s course started the clock was at seven minutes to midnight. Today, the doomsday clock hand stands at six minutes before midnight.

Larry’s early writing focused on the career of Ernest Rutherford, “the greatest experimental physicist since Faraday,” who is also recognized as the father of nuclear physics. Exploring Rutherford’s career and papers required a combination of historical expertise along with an understanding of physics. Larry’s first two books cataloged and interpreted Rutherford’s correspondence on radioactivity. He then produced Radioactivity in America: Growth and Decay of a Science in 1979. After completing this definitive volume, Larry expanded his research on the history of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are a product of scientists assembled during World War II at the now legendary Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico where as Larry put it “more scientific brainpower was accumulated there than at any time since Isaac Newton dined alone.” Larry brought his historical research to UCSB, literally, when in 1975 he organized a series of weekly lectures delivered by members of the Los Alamos Project. The gathering included George B. Kistiakowsky, Richard P. Feynman, and Norris Bradbury, amongst others. Larry joined the late Herb Broida of the physics department and bomb builder J. O. Hirschfelder in editing a volume entitled Reminiscences of Los Alamos that captured the words of this stellar assembly of scientists whose work changed the world forever. Larry’s work on nuclear weapons piqued a new interest in science and social responsibility.

Larry’s command of Ernest Rutherford’s correspondence was unparalleled and meant that he could either add to the list of biographies or focus on a more diverse aspect of the great scientist’s career. Larry chose the latter and used Rutherford’s extensive communication with his most successful student, the Russian Nobel Laureate Peter Kapitza, to produce Rutherford, Kaptiza, and the Kremlin in 1985.

Larry’s later career focused almost exclusively on science and society. His last book, A Nuclear Winter’s Tale (2009) examines what will happen to the earth in the event of a thermonuclear exchange. His book draws upon extensive interviews with prominent nuclear winter scientists such as the late Carl Sagan and Stephen Schneider.

Larry Badash’s historical research explored a realm of science that opened a Pandora’s Box, forever changing the world we live in. Larry encouraged his students to focus on the impact of science on society. He believed in the social responsibility of scientists whose research can have an astonishing impact on the world. Larry’s teaching and writing warned that science and scientists can have an impact that stretches far beyond the ivory tower of academe and that society ignores science at its peril.

Larry was a NATO Postdoctoral Science Fellow at Cambridge University, a Guggenheim Fellow and Visiting Professor of International Studies at Meiji Gakuin University in Yokohama. On two occasions Larry was Director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation’s (IGCC) Summer Seminar on Global Security and Arms Control. He served as a lecturer on the nuclear arms race at the Inter-University Center of Postgraduate Studies in Dubrovnik, Croatia, was a Council member of the History of Science Society, Chairman of the Division (now Forum) of History of Physics of the American Physical Society, a Member-at-Large of the Section on History and Philosophy of Science of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Forum on Physics and Society of the American Physical Society. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Larry received numerous awards throughout his career. Prominent among these are research and travel grants from the American Philosophical Society, National Research Council, National Science Foundation, the IGCC, the University of California’s Universitywide Energy Research Group, and the University of California’s Pacific Rim Program.

Lisa Jones best described her dad as someone who “always stood up for what was right.” Her words are reflected in his service to our community. Larry was on the Board of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (proud to be a “card-carrying member”) beginning in the early 1970s and continuing through 2008. He was president on two occasions (’82-’84 and ’96-’99) and also served on the Board of Directors of the Southern California ACLU. The ACLU’s Selma Rubin describes Larry as a tireless participant who kept the Santa Barbara Chapter apprised of current events. He tended bar wearing his cat-in-the-hat headgear at ACLU garden parties held at “Rancho Badash” and was a regular participant in the 4th of July Parade.

Larry’s life partner, Nancy Hofbauer, described Larry as having the most integrity of any person she has ever met. This thought is echoed in hundreds of condolences from friends and colleagues around the world. Larry was a kind and generous man who often sponsored students (with money, U.S. entry process, or references) and had a motto of “pay it forward.”

Historians often use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to acquire FBI files of outspoken individuals. Larry participated in his share of protests during the Vietnam era and his graduates students used to joke that he might want to FOIA his own file. At the time of his passing Larry was completing research for a new book on “Science in the Haunted 50’s” that focused on the persecution of scientists who did not conform to government ideology. One of his final papers describes UCSB’s unwillingness to hire Linus Pauling shortly after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Pauling was deemed too controversial by then Chancellor Vernon Cheadle who did not inform the Chemistry Department of his interest.

Larry Badash loved the Himalayas and Nepal, calling Kathmandu his favorite city in the world (after Santa Barbara). Over a twenty year span he trekked his way around every major peak, fulfilling his goal of seeing all ten of the world’s highest mountains. His obsession required near constant conditioning and he trained by hiking trails near his home at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Graduate students and colleagues will recall Badash “death marches” that challenged even the most athletic participants. Larry introduced his flock to a wide range of Chumash paintings, some so isolated that one gained a completely new perspective on the size and complexity of Native American culture in the Santa Ynez Mountains. One benefit of hiking with Larry is that you could count on a rescue in the event the adventure took a turn for the worse. For over two decades Larry served our community as a member of the Los Padres Search and Rescue squad, seeking out lost hikers, runaway children, and retrieving the remains of accident victims. On weekends, Larry joined Sierra Club hikes and planned his next adventure in Nepal.

Larry’s daughter, Lisa Dale Jones of Washington, DC and son, Bruce Badash, of Pleasant Hill, CA, survive him. Larry is also survived by Nancy Hofbauer of Santa Barbara, his companion and soul mate, who shared his love for travel and the outdoors.


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