Professor Robert Kyhl dies at 85; joined MIT Radiation Lab in 1941


Professor Emeritus Robert L. Kyhl, who began his MIT career as a Radiation Laboratory researcher nine months before the United States entered World War II, died on Dec. 10 at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was 85 years old.

Professor Kyhl, a physics major at the University of Chicago, joined the Rad Lab in March 1941 and concentrated on the development of magnetrons. During the war, his research centered on echo boxes, K-band atmospheric absorption and LHT (longitudinal head-tail) cavities.

He received the Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1947 and was a research associate at MIT's Laboratory for Information Research and the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) from 1945 to 1948, at which time he joined the W.W. Hansen Laboratory at Stanford University as a research associate. He worked at the General Electric research laboratories in Schenectady, N.Y., for two years before returning to MIT as an associate professor in electrical engineering in 1956. He received tenure in 1960 and was promoted to professor in 1967. Professor Kyhl retired in 1983.

A classical musician, Professor Kyhl played a 1744 Castagneri violin and attended many concerts with his cousin and Jamaica Plain neighbor, Nat Young. His sister, Ruth Hardin of Berkeley, Calif., is a professional cellist.

He loved walking and birding in the Arnold Arboretum near his home in Jamaica Plain and referred to himself as a "mountain man," even after he was stricken with post-polio syndrome in recent years and needed two canes to get around. He and his late wife, the former Edith Kettendorf, hiked and climbed the Swiss Alps and the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Professor Kyhl, who was born in Omaha, Neb., on July 27, 1917, loved to do puzzles and participated in highly competitive family games of Scrabble with his daughter, Alice Brocoum, and her sons, Christopher (S.B. 2000) and Philip (Class of 2005). Mrs. Kyhl received the S.M. in aeronautical engineering from MIT in 1948. She died in 1998.

"I have always been awed by my father's knowledge and brilliance," said Mrs. Brocoum, a high school physics teacher in Las Vegas. "There was never a physics question he could not answer. When he visited Las Vegas, he came to my classes and talked to the students about his career and answered their questions. They were very fond of him and all signed cards for me to take to him in the hospital. I would always tell my students 'I'll ask Dad' if they had a question I couldn't answer. On one occasion, we even called him from class on my cell phone."

A memorial service will be conducted on Friday, Feb. 7, at 10 a.m. in the MIT Chapel followed by a reception in the Stratton Student Center. Donations in Professor Kyhl's memory may be made to his grandson Philip's MIT loan (for information, contact

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 8, 2003.

Topics: Obituaries

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