Remembering Allan Kaufman

February 8, 2023

Black & white photo of Allan Kaufman at the chalkboard in 1985

Allan Nathan Kaufman, Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley, passed away peacefully on December 2, 2022 in Moraga, California. He was 95.

Allan was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 21, 1927 to Millie and Justin Kaufman who emigrated from Germany in 1910. Allan attended Hyde Park High School from 1940-1944 and entered the University of Chicago in 1944. Allan’s college career included interruptions for service in the Navy and time off for self-study, and otherwise passed smoothly to graduate school and a thesis in meson-nucleon theory under the direction of Gregor Wentzel. At Chicago Allan met and worked with many of the great physicists of the era, including Enrico Fermi, and with many of the great names of the next generation, including Marvin Goldberger and many others. Allan received his Ph.D. from University of Chicago in 1953.

That year Allan took a position at the newly formed Livermore laboratory, and within two years had begun work on the Sherwood project, the program to develop controlled nuclear fusion. At Livermore Allan began a long career of fundamental contributions to theoretical plasma physics. In that period Allan met his wife-to-be, Louise Lazarus, marrying her in 1957.

Allan started teaching at Berkeley in 1959, striking up collaborations with Ken Watson and others. He joined the faculty in 1965. Among his first graduate students were Chuan Liu and Ron Davidson, the first of many outstanding students who went on to become major figures in the field of plasma physics.

Professor Kaufman made seminal contributions in plasma physics, specifically in the areas of wave chaos, wave kinetic equations, ponderomotive effects, quasilinear diffusion and mode conversion in nonuniform plasmas. For many of these topics, he was one of the first in the plasma community to contribute. For others, Allan’s contributions are often considered to be among the clearest or most insightful. Further, he was often responsible for keeping plasma physics “out front” among the other fields of physics, developing ideas and tools that have since been adopted by others. In some cases other fields have yet to catch up. Professor Kaufman became Emeritus in 1998.

Professor Kaufman’s wife, Louise Lazarus Kaufman, passed away in October of 2011. He is survived by his daughter, Janet Kaufman, son-in-law Tom Adza, his son Joel, and grandson Aaron.

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