Bernd Crasemann passed peacefully, embraced in love, in the early morning of October 28, 2018 in his newly adopted home of Davis, California.
Born in Hamburg Germany on January 23, 1922, Bernd was raised in Valparaíso, Chile, where his family moved in 1926 to be near the home of his mother’s family. He attended grade school in Viña del Mar and high school in Colegio Aleman, Valparaíso (which followed the curriculum of a German science-oriented Gymnasium), and graduated in 1939. Unable to further his education in the United States during wartime, he worked for Lavadora de Lanas, a wool scouring plant in Viña del Mar and became a seasonal wool buyer in the Aysén territory, Patagonia.
During the long quasi-subarctic nights in Patagonia, he studied works like Bertrand Russell’s formidable Principia Mathematica and Philosophical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics as well as Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. With the end of the war, travel to the U.S. became possible (albeit with difficulty for German-born persons) and he succeeded in obtaining a student visa (with the kind help of a Jesuit friend) and a place as the only passenger on an ore freighter bound for Mobile, Alabama. His plan had been to study at UCLA, where Bertrand Russell had been teaching, but on arrival in Los Angeles he found that Russell had left, purportedly under pressure for having advocated what was then called “Free Love.”
It was immensely fortunate that Russell was succeeded at UCLA by Hans Reichenbach, founder of the Berlin school of logical positivism. As one of Reichenbach’s “disciples,” taught not only in formal seminars but in more informal settings such as hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains, Bernd became imbued with his teacher’s rigorous approach to science. On graduation, Bernd followed Reichenbach’s advice to pursue graduate study in pure science and received his PhD in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1953.
With a degree from one of the leading departments in the country, Bernd interviewed with several large universities in the Midwest and East, but in the end was charmed by the idyllic campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene — in his words “its picturesque setting, beautiful countryside, emphasis on teaching (my favorite activity), and relaxed atmosphere apparently cultivated by happy students and easygoing faculty alike.”
As a professor for almost forty years at the University of Oregon, Bernd served two terms as Chairman of the Department of Physics and Director of the Chemical Physics Institute. His teaching and research on campus were interspersed with research leaves in Berkeley, Stanford, Brookhaven, and Paris. An honor that he especially appreciated was being awarded the Ersted Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1959. Bernd’s decision to join a nascent department suited his vision. When he joined the Department, its size and stature had been reduced to five faculty members; a recent roster shows over 40 teaching staff.
In 1992, at the age of 70, he became the editor of Physical Review A, the leading international journal in atomic, molecular, and optical physics published by the American Physical Society. During his tenure he shepherded the journal through the rise of electronic communication and the resulting shift from print-only to online publication and an all-electronic workflow. Through all these changes, Bernd guided the journal with high standards and unfailing commitment.
Throughout the world, Bernd was well known for his work in theoretical atomic physics, in particular his work on atomic inner-shell physics as explored with synchrotron radiation. Comments in Bernd’s Post Tenure Committee review included that “Professor B. Crasemann is one of the most respected atomic physicists in this country” and another added that “in Bernd Crasemann you have that rare and precious example of a mature scientist who is in love with science and is perfectly comfortable with pursuing with an energy which only seems to accelerate with passing years.”
Bernd and his first wife Jean met in graduate school and were married in 1952. They created a beautiful home in Eugene, where they entertained students, visiting faculty, and researchers. Together they loved skiing, hiking, music, and time on the Oregon Coast. Graduate students remember Bernd’s love of sailing. On random days he would write: “Anyone want to go sailing today?” Then he and a few takers would go out on his beloved 20’ Santana. Almost to the end of his life, he was lobbying for one more trip to the ocean. Jean passed after 40 years of marriage, after which Bernd married a close family friend, Patricia Widney, who, like Jean, was an accomplished pianist. Pat passed away in 2008. Joan, Bernd’s third wife, had known him since she was a child. They married, starting the last adventure of his life, living in Seattle, Mexico, and finally California. Their five years in Riberas and Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico answered a call Bernd felt to return to a Spanish-speaking country. He had first visited Ajijic in January 1997 and when he turned 90, Ajijic was the one and only place he and Joan considered.
Bernd was a true internationalist, comfortable in many cultures. He was fluent in English, Spanish, German, and French. As a long time colleague at the American Physical Society recently commented: “His keen mind, blended with so much kindness, made him loved all over the world.”
Bernd was predeceased by his parents, Paul Joachim Crasemann and Carlota Heildegard Vorwerk, his first wife Jean Millicent McEown, his second wife Patricia Widney, his sister Christiane Crasemann Collins and brother Malte Crasemann, and two of Pat’s children, Christopher and Peter. He is survived by his wife, Joan, and Pat’s children, Holly and Jon.
Would you like to send a photo or memory of Bernd for posting here on the site? Find out how here.