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At 99, Lew Aronin ’40 volunteers for MIT AgeLab

Physics alumnus who saw the Hindenburg fly over campus now collaborates with researchers to explore the impacts of longevity.
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Lew Aronin '40 is a frequent and enthusiastic participant in Tech Reunions.
Lew Aronin '40 is a frequent and enthusiastic participant in Tech Reunions.
Photo courtesy of the MIT Alumni Association

As a volunteer for MIT’s AgeLab, 99-year-old Lew Aronin ’40 is doing what he loves mostseeking scientific knowledge for the benefit of humankind. A physics alum­nus who attends MIT events and donates annually, Aronin is a member of 85+ Lifestyle Leaders, a group of people 85 and older, including many alumni and spouses, who delve into topics such as age-friendly design, caregiv­ing, and use of technology.

Aronin’s career began during World War II: The Waltham Watch Company hired him to reproduce the verneuil process for making synthetic sapphires, which are an important compo­nent of watch bearings. “If the company’s supply from Switzerland was cut off, there was a great fear that the only source of preci­sion bearings would be lost,” says Aronin. “I successfully did this in less than a year.”

When the company folded, Aronin joined the staff of the MIT Metallurgical Proj­ect, where he also consulted on the development of the atomic bomb. His research focused on nuclear reactors, and he published an article on radiation damage in the Journal of Applied Physics in 1954. After his department spun off to become a com­pany called Nuclear Metals, he worked as a department manager, and he also con­tributed two chapters to a textbook called Nuclear Reactor Fuel Elements Metal­lurgy and Fabrication.

Aronin first encountered the Institute when his sci­ence teacher in Norwood, Massachusetts, took his best students to attend lec­tures by notables like Harold “Doc” Edgerton and Robert Van de Graaff. The lectures and the campus won him over. Unable to afford a dor­mitory, Aronin commuted and had a part-time job on campus. “I worked hard and got into MIT with the odds against me,” he says, “and it has served me well.”

One first-year experi­ence left a big impression. On May 6, 1937, while work­ing on a problem set in Build­ing 2, he noticed a sudden darkness. When he looked outside, he saw the Hinden­burg overhead, with swasti­kas on its tail. Three hours later, it crashed in Manches­ter Township, New Jersey.

He and his late wife, Eleanor, a musician, were married for 59 years. They raised their children in Lex­ington, Massachusetts, where she became a sought-after piano teacher; he was an active volunteer for the Lions Club and Masons.

Aronin, who retired in 1990, finished his career at the Army Research Labora­tory in Watertown, where he was an expert in beryllium, a relatively rare chemical ele­ment used in cell phones, missiles, and aircraft.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Slice of MIT blog

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