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Clifford Swartz, Stony Brook University emeritus professor, dies

Clifford E. Swartz, emeritus professor of physics at Stony Brook University and editor of The Physics Teacher for almost 30 years, died Aug. 15 at the university hospital from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 85.

In 1951 he was at Brookhaven Laboratory, working on the Cosmotron, a high energy accelerator and other projects. In 1957, he helped start the new school's physics department, where, colleagues said, he became legendary for his lectures, demonstrations and enthusiasm for teaching. He divided his time between the two institutions, becoming full time at the school when it moved from Oyster Bay to Stony Brook in 1962.

"He got really involved in education at the high school level and developed a new curriculum for it, and then tested it by teaching students at Port Jefferson High School for a year (1959-1960)," said current department chairman Lazlo Mihaly.

"He was a teacher," said his daughter Katherine Swartz, of Newton, Mass., a School of Public Health professor at Harvard University. "That's what he did. He pushed all six of us, his children, educationally. When he taught at that high school, it was because a guy attending dad's seminars for high school teachers challenged him to teach at that level. He did it - successfully - and he enjoyed it."

The Physics Teacher, a national journal of the American Association of Physics Teachers, was edited by Swartz from 1967 to 1985, then again from 1990 through 2000. "His monthly editorials were legendary for their wit and advice on how people learn . . . A collection of the editorials was published in 2006 under the title 'Cliff's Nodes,' " Mihaly said.

He added that Swartz authored or co-authored more than 30 books, including his 1998 book "Teaching Introductory Physics: A source book," that he said should be required reading for all high school science teachers. He also had four books of poetry published.

Swartz was one of the Westinghouse - now Intel - Science Talent Search contest finalists in 1942, the first year of the contest. The Niagara Falls native was a 1945 graduate of the University of Rochester, where he would get his PhD in physics in 1951.

Between 1981 and 1983, Swartz was the first civilian physicist to teach at the Military Academy at West Point. He was awarded the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal by the Department of the Army in 1983 for his work there.

Swartz was married for 63 years to Barbara Myers Swartz, a historian, who died in February.

Other survivors include three additional daughters, Christine Songer of Dripping Springs, Texas, Cassandra of Silver Spring, Md., and Tamara of Mansfield, Mass; two sons, Paul of Hillsborough, Calif., and Erich of Phoenix, and seven grandchildren.

The body has been cremated, and the family said a date for a memorial service has not yet been set. A Physics Department colloquium is to be on Dec. 7 at the university.


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