Remembering John H. Marburger, III
February 8, 1941 – July 28, 2011
John H. Marburger, III, former president of Stony Brook University, director of Brookhaven National Laboratory, science advisor to President George W. Bush and up until a few weeks before his death Vice President for Research at Stony Brook, died at his home in Port Jefferson, New York, on Thursday, July 28, 2011, after four years of treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Dr. Marburger came to Stony Brook in 1980 from the University of Southern California, where he had been a Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering, serving consecutively as Physics Department Chairman and Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in the 1970’s. He was 39 years old when he became the third president of Stony Brook University (1980-1994).
In 1994 he retired from the presidency to return to his primary interest, the field of non-linear optics, as a professor in Stony Brook’s departments of Physics and Electrical Engineering. When the Department of Energy awarded Stony Brook and the Battelle Memorial Institute the contract to operate Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1998, Dr. Marburger became its director. Under his leadership the Laboratory commissioned the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), achieved ISO14001 certification of the Laboratory's environmental management system, and significantly improved support for the Laboratory by the surrounding community.
In 2001 George W. Bush appointed Dr. Marburger, a registered Democrat, as his science advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Heading that office until the change of administration in 2009, he was longest-serving science advisor in history.
In 2009 he returned to Stony Brook University as a physics professor. The next year Stony Brook’s new president, Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., asked him to take on the job of Vice President for Research. He retired from that position for reasons of health on July 1, 2011.
John (“Jack”) Marburger was born on Staten Island, N.Y., grew up in Maryland near Washington D.C. and attended Princeton University (A.B. Physics 1962) and Stanford University (Ph.D. Applied Physics 1967). In 1965 he married the former Carol Godfrey. Their sons, John and Alexander, were born in 1970 and 1972.
While at the University of Southern California, Dr. Marburger contributed as a theoretical physicist to the rapidly growing fields of nonlinear optics and quantum optics, subjects transformed by the invention of the laser in 1960. He was a co-founder of USC’s Center for Laser Studies, a consultant at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory on high-power laser phenomena, and a frequent public speaker on science, hosting a series of educational programs called “Frontiers of Electronics” on CBS television.
Dr. Marburger’s presidency at Stony Brook coincided with the opening and growth of University Hospital and the development of the biological sciences as a major strength of the university. During the 1980’s federally sponsored scientific research at Stony Brook grew to exceed that of any other public university in the northeastern United States.
During his presidency he served on numerous boards and committees, including chairmanship of Governor Cuomo’s commission on the Shoreham Nuclear Power facility and chairmanship of the 80-campus Universities Research Association (URA) which operates Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago and operated the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory during the lifetime of that project. He served as a trustee of Princeton University and a trustee or director of many other organizations.
Dr. Marburger's tenure as the President’s science advisor began immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It included major policy initiatives associated with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, re-orientation of the nation's space policy following the crash of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003, the U.S. re-entry in the international nuclear fusion program ITER, and the American Competitiveness Initiative that aimed to double federal funding for the physical sciences and engineering. He and senior OSTP officials led U.S. delegations to critical international negotiating meetings on internet governance; telecommunications spectrum allocations; and climate change, leading to the influential summary reports of the International Panel on Climate Change and securing Administration support for the IPCC reports as a foundation for subsequent Administration policymaking. Serving during a time of deep political and ideological divisions, especially regarding climate change and human embryonic stem cell research, Dr. Marburger brought high standards of fairness and objectivity to the science policy process. His call for a “science of science policy” was instrumental in launching a new field in the social sciences.
The author of numerous papers in the area of non-linear optics and quantum electrodynamics, he co-edited The Science of Science Policy: A Handbook that was published in this spring by Stanford University Press. In September Cambridge University Press will publish his book on quantum mechanics, Constructing Reality: Quantum Theory and Particle Physics.
He is survived by his wife, Carol, of Port Jefferson, N.Y.; his son John and daughter-in-law Marianne D’Amato of Annandale, Virginia; his son Alexander and daughter-in-law Tracy Lampula of Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts; and his grandson Ian, of Annandale, Virginia; and, his sister Mary Hoffman-Habig, of Edgewater, Maryland.
In lieu of flowers, the Marburger family requests that memorial gifts in Jack’s name be directed to the John H. Marburger, III Memorial Fund. The Fund will support fellowships for women undertaking graduate study in the physical sciences, engineering or mathematics; fellowships for graduate students in music performance; and the Pollock/Krasner House. Please contact the Office of Advancement at 632-6300 for information or donate online.
A memorial service will be held at Stony Brook University University on Friday, September 16, 2011.
Obituaries and appreciations
- Robert Crease, "Marburger Knew How to Do Science" (Newsday)
- New York Times
- Washington Post
- USA Today
- Brookhaven National Lab
- Other sources
Memorial Celebration at Stony Brook University, Sept. 16, 2011