Leader in plasma physics dies

Princeton NJ -- Thomas Stix, one of the most original thinkers and leading developers in the field of plasma physics, died April 16 in Princeton. He was 76 years old and professor emeritus in astrophysical sciences at the University. The cause of death was leukemia.

Stix will be remembered not only for his work as an outstanding scientist, educator, innovator and inventor, but also for his warmth, humor and genuine concern for people.

Thomas Stix


A 1948 graduate of the California Institute of Technology, he earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1953 and joined Project Matterhorn, then a small, classified project on Princeton's Forrestal campus. The project aimed to harness fusion energy for peacetime use. Project Matterhorn grew quickly, and, in 1961, when Stix headed the experimental division, its name was changed to the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

Stix's work revolutionized research in plasma physics by showing how waves could heat plasma. This early work was presented at the Second International Atoms for Peace Conference in Geneva in 1958, held soon after the major nations working on controlled thermonuclear fusion research agreed to declassify their work.

In 1962, Stix published his classic text, "The Theory of Plasma Waves." The same year, he was appointed professor of astrophysical sciences at the University. Enormously influential, his textbook explored and formalized the growing subject of waves in plasma, both for laboratory and astrophysical applications. The book educated several generations of plasma physicists.

Stix received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1969, the James Clerk Maxwell Prize -- the American Physical Society's highest award in the field of plasma physics -- in 1980 and the Lifetime Achievement Award by Fusion Power Associates in 1999. In 1991, the University recognized his contributions as a teacher and educator in its awarding him its first University Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Stix also embraced civic responsibility. As a member and chair of the American Physical Society Committee on International Freedom of Scientists, he worked tirelessly on behalf of human rights and the political freedom of scientists worldwide. He chaired the Princeton United Jewish Appeal in 1954-55, and again in 1963-64. He served as chair of the Princeton Hillel Foundation from 1972 to 1976 and as acting director of the newly founded University Center for Jewish Life in 1994. He was on the board of the Princeton chapter of the American Jewish Committee and on the advisory board of the Princeton Senior Resource Committee.

Survivors include his wife, Hazel, and two children, Susan Sherwin Fisher of New York and Michael Sherwin Stix of Lexington, Mass.

The family requests that donations be made to the Princeton Senior Resource Center, the New Israel Fund or the American Jewish Committee.


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