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Professor Emeritus Kaplan dead at 84

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 be-came 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 worked as a research chemist at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago from 1937-41.

After World War II, he 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 the US. 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 issues. When the laboratory was built, the only women's room was in a secure 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 Engineering. From 1959-69, he 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. His sons received MBAs from the Sloan School of Management.

A memorial service will be scheduled.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 7, 1997.

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