Amherst Magazine

David Warren Koopman
David Warren Koopman

David W. Koopman, research professor of physics in the Institute for Physical Science and Technology at the University of Maryland , died on December 21,1979 , at the age of 44.

Dave came to Amherst from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa. He majored in physics at Amherst, doing honors work under the guidance of Professor Robert H. Romer'52. Dave went on to the University of Michigan where he earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics. He joined the Maryland faculty in the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics, now the Institute for Physical Science and Technology. He was promoted to full research professor in 1973. During his 15 years at Maryland he directed the work of five Ph.D. thesis students and a number of research associates.

In addition to his research at Maryland, Dave was a consulting scientist with the Maryland Institute of Technology, Inc., the Atlantic Research Corporation, and Versar, Inc. At Versar he was a co-discoverer in 1969 of the laser guidance of electrical discharges in gases. This work led to his collaboration over the last five years with scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory on high voltage laser-guided sparks.

Another program in which Dave took great pride was the development of tunable coherent light sources in the vacuum ultraviolet. Applications of this technique will make possible the measurement of hydrogen isotope concentrations in magnetically confined plasmas of the Tokamak type.

Dave's interest in controlled fusion led to his course "Introduction to Controlled Fusion" which he taught for the last five years to advanced undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Maryland.

Those who knew Dave during his Amherst days and even before will remember a quiet but fun-loving friend. His fun-loving was not limited to nonacademic pursuits with his Psi U brothers; those who took Arnold Arons's thermodynamics course with Dave will remember the wonderful Rube Goldberg devices (sometimes with a touch of Escher!) Dave proposed in an attempt to violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics -- and the pleasure we all derived in trying to find the hidden flaw in Dave's latest creation. At least one friend remembers being admitted to David's special laboratory -- a corner of the Psi U attic -- in which Dave was conducting some surreptitious ballistics tests, using pieces of paper clips as projectiles and pulverized match heads as an energy source. Dave's pleasure in seeing one of these tests go well was the pleasure of a scientist-engineer whose results suggested a developing understanding of what was going on, not that of having in his possession a weapon which might give him some sense of power. The only thing harmed by his device was a plywood board which may still be stored in the Psi U attic, full of pieces of paper clips.

It is interesting to note that David's future development as a scientist was not inconsistent with his earlier approach. A colleague wrote to his parents shortly after his death, "His early work at Versar using carbon dioxide lasers to produce 'channels' for spark discharges is the basis of important advances in the weapons technology of charged particle beams. David, who was a man of peace, would not have appreciated the military value of this work; nevertheless, it may turn out to be a significant element in the protection of our way of life."

David is survived by his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Philip U. Koopman, of Cynwyd, Pa., by two sons, Philip and Steven, and by two sisters and a brother. He will be missed deeply by them and by all of us who knew Dave as a true friend.

--- William A. Jeffers, Jr.

 

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