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MIT Physics Prof. George Bekefi Dies at 70

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Professor emeritus George Bekefi, a physics researcher and faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 38 years, died August 17 at his home in Brookline. His family said the cause of death was leukemia.

Dr. Bekefi, who was 70, retired from the MIT faculty this summer.

He was widely known for his contributions in the field of plasma physics, particularly in the production of extremely high-powered microwave generators and, more recently, in the development of free-electron lasers which are used as power sources in high frequency bands. The free-electron lasers are useful in a wide variety of areas including communications, bulk chemical processing, fusion, and cutting, drilling and welding.

In 1976, Dr. Bekefi and a staff researcher, Dr. Thaddeus Orzechowski, developed a source of radiation that produced bursts of microwaves some 50 times more powerful than the largest conventional microwave generators then in existence.

Dr. Bekefi also was highly regarded as a teacher. In an article he submitted this summer to his department's newsletter, he wrote: "Revealing to hundreds of undergraduates the mysteries of physics, and guiding some 50 graduates towards their MS and PhD degrees, I am retiring after 38 fun-drenched years. Throughout, it has been a most delightful experience."

Professor Bekefi was born on March 14, 1925 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. After occupation of that country by Nazi Germany in 1939, he went to England where he spent the war years.

He received a bachelor of science degree from University College in London in 1948 with first-class honors in physics and mathematics. He then went to McGill University in Montreal, Canada, as an instructor in the physics department. He received a master's degree there in 1950 and PhD in 1952.

He remained at McGill until 1957, first as research associate and later as assistant professor. He then joined MIT's Plasma Physics Group in the Research Laboratory of Electronics, with which he was affiliated throughout his career, and became an assistant professor in the Department of Physics in 1961. He was promoted to associate professor in 1964 and professor in 1967.

In 1966, Professor Bekefi was a Visiting Fellow at St. Catherine's College, Oxford, and in 1972 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, working at the University of Paris and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

He was the author or co-author of three books and more than 180 scientific papers, and the recipient of seven patents. The books included Radiation Processes in Plasmas (1966) and, in 1977, an undergraduate text (with A.H. Barrett), Electromagnetic Vibrations, Waves and Radiation. He also was editor and co-author of a monograph, Principles of Laser Plasmas, published in 1976.

His awards included the 1995 Free-Electron Laser Award by the American Physical Society; the Gold Honorary Medal for Merits in the field of Physics Sciences from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in 1993; and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers' Plasma Science and Applications Prize in 1989. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and chairman of the Society's Division of Plasma Physics in 1978.

He leaves his wife, Chaia; a son, Ariel; and a daughter, Tamara, all of Brookline.

There will be a graveside service Sunday, August 20, at 11am at the Temple Emeth Memorial Park, Baker Street, in West Roxbury.

Arrangements are by Stanetsky Memorial Chapels, Brookline.

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