In Memoriam – Eugene Saletan

September 07, 2012

Gene Saletan Physicist, teacher, writer, poet, translator, artist, linguist, drummer, trombonist, folk dancer, skier, airman, Gene Saletan lived many lives. Until his last days, he envisioned more work to do and new paths to follow, but he ran out of time. He died on July 3rd of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The second law of thermodynamics, he said, finally brought him down. He was 87 years old.

The son of Russian immigrants in New York City, Gene grew up bilingual in English and Russian and went on to learn French and Italian as well as a little Hindi, Spanish, Japanese, and German. He was at home and loved all over the world.

During the Second World War, First Lieutenant Eugene Saletan took his place in what Tom Brokaw would later call the Greatest Generation. He served as a B-17 navigator in the 8th Air Force 96th Bomb Group and flew more than 30 missions over Germany from his base in East Anglia. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

His service years interrupted his education. So did a period of translating scientific books, notably those of the Russian mathematician Israel Gelfand, a project he tackled with the assistance of his beloved first wife, the late Elma Margaret (Peggy) Junz Saletan. The G.I. bill helped Gene earn a Bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and a Doctorate in physics from Princeton in 1962. He taught physics at Rutgers, Cooper Union, the Birla Institute of Technology in Rajasthan, India, and for more than 25 years was Professor of Physics at Northeastern University in Boston.

As Professor Emeritus, Gene continued to flourish. He worked at Northeastern in the SEED and RESEED programs, dedicated to improving the quality of science teaching in middle and high schools. He carved out time to record science texts for blind and dyslexic students through RFB&D, now known as Learning Ally. In 1998, he and Professor Jorge José published “Classical Dynamics: A Contemporary Approach.” That book joined his previous texts: “Theoretical Mechanics,” written with Professor Alan Cromer in 1971 and “Dynamical Systems” (1985) undertaken in collaboration with Neapolitan colleagues Professors Giuseppe Marmo, Alberto Simoni, and Bruno Vitale. And then, for fun, in 2007 he translated the children’s book “The Crocodile” by K.I. Chukovsky from Russian into English.

He leaves his adored and adoring wife, the former Ellen Nurnberg, also known as Ellen Cole, his dearly loved nephews, nieces, and cousins, and many cherished friends.

Good night, sweet prince.

A memorial service was held on Saturday, September 15, at noon at the St. Botolph Club, located at 199 Commonwealth Ave., Boston Back Bay.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Eugene Saletan’s honor to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society or the Parkinson Research Foundation.