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Ronald H. Ruby

Professor of Physics, Emeritus

 Santa Cruz



Ronald H. Ruby, Professor Emeritus of Physics, died on November 5, 2003, at the age of 70. A founding member of the faculty at UC Santa Cruz, he was one of the first faculty members hired by the newly established Cowell College in 1965, when the campus opened its doors.

He received his Ph.D. in physics in 1962 from UC Berkeley, working on magnetic resonance phenomena under the direction of Professor Carson Jeffries. Subsequently, while teaching in the UC Berkeley Physics Department, he developed an interest in the phenomena of photosynthesis, working in cooperation with Professor Melvin Calvin of the Berkeley Chemistry Department and winner of the 1961 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Here, Ruby devised research equipment to observe the optical spectra associated with the photosynthetic process. Following this, he was awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied molecular biology under Professor Salvador Luria. His fascination with the photosynthetic process continued throughout his career at UC Santa Cruz.

Ruby's talent for designing and building appropriate apparatus became a hallmark of his career, not only in his research, but also in his teaching, and indeed in his everyday life.

He was known for his innovative and zestful approach to teaching, especially during the early years at Santa Cruz. For example, in our introductory course, he enjoyed introducing Isaac Newton by coming to lecture appearing as Newton himself, communicating Newton's Laws as he imagined Newton might have done in the seventeenth century. Also initially, he took classes of students to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, where he used the Boardwalk's whirling carousel to allow students to experience firsthand the mysterious centrifugal and Coriolis forces that appear in a rotating reference frame. This was such a successful demonstration that a few years later a permanent merry-go-round was constructed on the UC Santa Cruz campus. It survives today as a key component of our undergraduate course offerings.

Professor Ruby also invented a home-spun oscillator to illustrate simple harmonic motion--an ordinary hacksaw blade, held by one end in a clamp and twanged or driven at the free end, with the blade's motion being monitored electronically using an ordinary flashlight bulb and a photocell. The electrical signal from the photocell is then displayed on an oscilloscope screen. The relatively low oscillation frequency allows students to observe the clear connection between the mechanical motion of the blade and the electronically displayed trace on the oscilloscope screen. This apparatus, which also remains as a key course component today, later surprised its inventor by displaying nonlinear behavior that helped stimulate the extensive interest in chaos theory that originated on the UC Santa Cruz campus.

As the university took shape and grew, Ruby assumed influential roles in nearly every aspect. He took an active interest in the UC Santa Cruz sports program by serving during the early years as the first coach for the UC Santa Cruz rugby team.

He served in a variety of administrative roles, including two years as the chairman of the Physics Board of Studies, after which he served as acting dean of the Natural Sciences Division. Later he became Vice Chairman, and then Chairman of the Academic Senate. In the mid 1980s he helped formulate the Campus Long Range Development Plan, playing key roles on committees addressing such issues.

During the 1980s, Professor Ruby became actively concerned over national issues of nuclear policy, and in 1989 participated with nuclear policy expert Daniel Hirsch in a congressional briefing on "Laser Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Test Verification". Later that year, he organized a UC Santa Cruz summer workshop on this same topic.

Ruby was also known for his active and competitive interest in a variety of sports, including cycling, Nordic skiing (which he learned while on sabbatical leave in Norway), sailing and rowing. Each of these involves appropriate equipment with an interesting history and plenty of opportunity for technical innovation.

Ruby is survived by his mother Ruth Bittman, his wife Dorothy Bell Ruby, his four children: Leah Williams, Michael Ruby, Rachel Ruby, and Joel Ruby, and two grandchildren.


Peter Scott