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Thomas A. Tombrello


Thomas A. Tombrello, Caltech's Robert H. Goddard Professor of Physics, passed away on Tuesday, September 23. He was 78.

Tombrello was an expert in the application of theoretical and experimental physics to problems in materials science, surface physics, and planetary science. His research studies included understanding the damage processes caused by megavolt ions in solids, characterizing the sputtering of materials by low-energy ions as well as growing and studying novel light-emitting materials.

A native of Texas, he received his bachelor of arts degree in physics in 1958, his master's degree in physics in 1960, and his doctoral degree in physics in 1961, all from Rice University. He was a research fellow at Caltech from 1961–1963, then an assistant professor at Yale University from 1963–1964 before returning to Caltech, again as a research fellow. He was named assistant professor of physics in 1965; associate professor in 1967; professor in 1971; William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics in 1997; and Robert H. Goddard Professor of Physics in 2012.

He served as the chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy from 1998 to 2008.

Tombrello was a fellow of the American Physical Society and the recipient of an honorary doctor of philosophy from Uppsala University. At Caltech, he was noted for his commitment to student education, receiving awards for teaching excellence from the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology (ASCIT) for 1982–1983 and 1986–1987, and, in 1994, the inaugural Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching, given annually to a teacher who exhibits "unusual ability, creativity, and innovation in teaching."

A full obituary will be posted at a later date.

Written by Kathy Svitil