Clark S. Robinson


Clark S. Robinson, professor emeritus of physics, was an important member of the University of Illinois’ world-leading effort in nuclear physics following World War II. Robinson came to Illinois in 1946, and made many significant contributions to the design and construction of particle accelerators. He also had a profound influence on the development of the American Institute of Physics’ (AIP) translations journals.

Clark Robinson was born in Reading, Massachusetts on May 13, 1917. He died on April 7, 1998, at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital in Bozeman, Montana. He is survived by his wife, Rachel Goldsmith Robinson, a son, a daughter, two granddaughters, two great-grandchildren, a brother, and a sister.

Robinson received an S.B in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1938, and a Ph.D. from MIT in 1942. From 1941 to 1943, he was a research associate at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, where he worked on the radar project and first came to the attention of F. Wheeler Loomis, the head of the University of Illinois physics department on wartime assignment to MIT.

Robinson left the Radiation Lab to serve in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, attaining the rank of Captain. In 1946, Wheeler Loomis recruited him to join Donald Kerst’s expanding nuclear physics program at Illinois. Robinson had a distinguished career at Illinois, rising from assistant professor (1946) to professor (1955). After Kerst left Illinois in 1955, Robinson led the effort to substantially improve the 300-MeV betatron electron accelerator and worked on a novel small accelerator that he called a microtron.

In 1959, Robinson decided that he should learn Russian in order to keep abreast of rapid Soviet advances in accelerator technology. He took regular undergraduate classes in Russian from 1959 to 1964, and developed considerable fluency. He became responsible for the acquisitions in Russian for the Physics Library, tutored graduate students wishing to gain a reading knowledge of Russian, and worked as a professional translator of Russian scientific articles. He was a major force on the influential AIP Translations Advisory Board from 1975 to 1990, acting as its Chair from 1976 to 1980. After he retired from the University of Illinois, he became the editor of the Soviet Journal of Nuclear Physics in 1976, the AIP translation of Yadernaya Fizika, a post he retained until 1990.

He represented the U.S. in several scientific exchanges with the Soviet Union sponsored by the Inter-University Committee on Travel Grants (IUTCG) and the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences. In January and February 1967, he traveled with the IUCTG to Budapest, Sofia, Erevan, Moscow (where he discussed microtrons with S.P. Kapitsa), Dubna, and Novosibirsk.

He returned to Novosibirsk in October 1968 for a seven-month visit as an exchange scholar under the official NRC U.S./Soviet scientific exchange agreement, the first American to be allowed in the "science city" for an extended stay. He worked at the Nuclear Physics Institute in Novosibirsk, where he collaborated with G.I. Budker on intermediate-energy electron accelerators. In 1970, he was invited for a two-week visit to the Soviet Union as a guest of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences, USSR, where he again visited Kapitsa and Budker. Regrettably, he was subsequently declared persona non grata by the Soviet authorities and denied permission to ever reenter the Soviet Union. Despite this capricious and heartbreaking action by the Soviets, Robinson remained committed to East-West scientific exchange and worked tirelessly to establish the AIP translations journals.

Head Gerald Almy wrote of Robinson in 1966, "his strongest personal characteristic is his patient determination. If he decides a job is worth doing, he gives it his best effort, and he never quits. This applies to an intricate modification of the betatron, to a precision experiment in photonuclear effects, to the advising of Engineering freshmen." Robinson retired from the University in 1976, and relocated to Montana, where he served as an adjunct professor of physics at Montana State University and indulged his passion for ham radio with the Gallatin Ham Radio Club.