Skip to content ↓

Irving Kaplan, MIT Professor Emeritus, Dies at 84; Worked on Manhattan Project

CAMBRIDGE, MA-Professor Emeritus Irving Kaplan of Belmont, 84, a
founding member of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at MIT, died at
Massachusetts General Hospital on April 10 following heart surgery.

Professor Kaplan, who came to MIT as a visiting professor in 1957
and became a permanent member of the faculty a year later when the
Department of Nuclear Engineering was created, retired in 1978 but
continued to teach as a senior lecturer until 1989.

A native New Yorker, Professor Kaplan received the BA from Columbia
University in 1933, the MA in 1934 and the PhD in chemistry in 1937.

He worked on the Manhattan Project as a physicist in the Division
of War Research at his alma mater from 1941-46, doing research on
isotope separation. In 1943, he worked on nuclear reactor design at the
University of Chicago's Metallurgical Laboratory. Before the war,
Professor Kaplan was a research chemist at Michael Reese Hospital in
Chicago from 1937-41.

After World War II, Professor Kaplan was a founding member of the
Federation of American Scientists and joined other prominent scientists
in a campaign to place atomic energy under civilian control in this
country. This group of scientists was instrumental in creating the
Atomic Energy Commission as an alternative to military control in 1947.

Professor Kaplan was a senior physicist at the Brookhaven National
Laboratory on Long Island from 1946-57, during which time he wrote the
textbook Nuclear Physics, and championed the cause of female employees,
among other things. When the laboratory was built, the only ladies room
was in an area which none of the women had the security clearance to
enter. At Professor Kaplan's urging, a facility was erected outside the
secure area. It was called "The Irving Kaplan Memorial Hall."

Professor Kaplan came to Cambridge as a visiting lecturer at
Harvard in 1956 and moved to MIT a year later. At that time, courses in
nuclear engineering were offered by the Department of Chemical

From 1959 to 1969, Professor Kaplan co-directed an AEC-sponsored
research program at the MIT reactor on lattices of partially enriched
uranium rods in heavy water. He also developed graduate and
undergraduate courses in humanities programs such as the history of
science and classical Greek.

"There is now, and there always has been, a need to broaden the
learning of scientists and engineers," said Professor Kaplan. "But I
wish I could say that humanists, especially the literary people, were as
interested in learning something about technology as the scientists and
engineers are in learning something of the humanities."

He was a member of the American Physical Society and a fellow of
the American Nuclear Society. He was also a fellow of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science. He received the Marvin Fox Memorial
Medal in 1966 and the Arthur Holly Compton Award in 1972 from the
American Nuclear Society for his contribution to the teaching of nuclear
physics. He served as secretary of the MIT faculty from 1975-77.

A modest man, Professor Kaplan responded this way to a 1967
departmental request to list his accomplishments: "I've learned to play
a fairly good game of squash since coming to MIT. I am looking forward
to being appointed (upon my retirement) to a professorship of
Theoretical and Applied Squashology."

Professor Kaplan is survived by his wife, Ruth Evelyn (Stern); two
sons, Paul of Lexington and Dan of Santa Cruz, CA; a daughter, Judith of
Seattle; and four grandchildren. Paul and Dan Kaplan have MBAs from the
Sloan School of Management.

A memorial service will be scheduled.

Related Topics

More MIT News