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Nathan Rynn
In Memoriam

Nathan Rynn

Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Emeritus

UC Irvine

Nathan Rynn, one of the early faculty members to join the Department of Physics at the University of California, Irvine, died on October 31, 2017. Professor Rynn was brought to UC Irvine in 1966 by Fred Reines, where he began a plasma physics group that has grown to world-wide prominence.

Nathan Rynn was the fourth and youngest child of Meyer and Rose Rynkowsky, who immigrated to America with their two children after fleeing the pogroms in Russia. Meyer brought his family to New York City, where two more children were born, including Nathan. Nat grew up in the Bronx. He developed an interest in gadgets, and sent away for a kit to build his own radio. This fascination for all things mechanical and electrical led him to Townsend Harris, a scholarship high school, and then on to City College of New York (CCNY). Shortly after graduation, he was drafted into the Navy and was sent to the Pacific, where he was a radio engineer on a ship in the final phase of WWII. His ship was part of the American fleet present at the surrender of the Japanese at Yokohama Bay.

He returned to NYC and then pursued a master's degree at University of Illinois, and finally a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Stanford University in California. He had met Ruth, his first wife, while he was still in New York, and she came to join him in Palo Alto, where they married and had their first son, Jonathan. Shortly after, the family moved to Princeton, where Nathan was a staff physicist at the national laboratory now called Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and their daughter Margie was born. An offer from UC Berkeley brought them back to California, and in 1966, Nathan was offered a professorship in physics at the brand new University of California at Irvine. The family settled into Laguna Beach, and a third child, David was born.

Professionally, Nat’s most influential work was the invention of the Q Machine—“Q” for “quiescent.” The low level of turbulence in Q-machine plasmas enabled verification of numerous basic properties of plasmas and, as a result, facilities based on his invention were constructed throughout the world. At UC Irvine, Nat constructed a laboratory for the study of basic plasma physics that flourished for many decades. His PhD students became leaders in industry and major plasma physics facilities.

Nathan Rynn was a passionate man, always ready to plunge in should a new and fascinating subject come his way. He could be difficult, stubborn and temperamental, but his rough side was tempered with an openness and curiosity about the world, and an ironic sense of humor.

Underneath, he was a softy, tearing up when telling a sentimental story, giving money to just causes, and getting outraged at the world's injustices.

He is survived by his second wife Glenda Brown Rynn, whom he married in 1989, his children Jonathan and David Rynn and Margie Rynn Bardon, his stepsons Taven Kinison Brown and Hunter Lee Brown, and three grandsons.

William Heidbrink
Professor of Physics & Astronomy

Roger McWilliams
Professor of Physics & Astronomy