Chesterton Tribune



Scientist Gerald 'Gerry' Peterson passes away at age 89

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Gerald (Gerry) Peterson, 89, died peacefully Tuesday, April 21, 2020, with his wife Doris at his side.

Born into the great depression in Chesterton, Indiana, on April 12, 1931, Gerry was the youngest son of Albert and Esther Peterson's five children. He came from humble beginnings, living next to some train tracks in a small house with no running water. He and his friends would pick up coal along the tracks to help heat their homes. Gerry had a life-long love for steam locomotives. Hobos (men who rode the rails looking for work) had an encampment under a nearby trestle. They would often come to his yard asking for some food. Gerry's mother would fix them a sandwich and give them some water from the well pump. This was considered a big deal because food was in short supply.

Growing up next to the Indiana Dunes State Park gave him a love and appreciation of the natural world. He kept bees, both when he was in high school and in later years in Leverett. The Boy Scouts were a very important part of his life growing up, and he attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He made time for music throughout his life, playing the violin as a young boy, and the E flat clarinet in high school. He later shared cello lessons with his daughter. The arrival of spring brought him the joy of spring birds, making maple syrup, working in his vegetable garden, and planting bulbs. Gerry took care of many family dogs through the years, and they always brought a smile to his face. He was a kind, compassionate, and principled man. He shared his thirst for learning with both his family and his students.

In 1949 while in high school, Gerry was the co-winner of the Science Talent Search for the State of Indiana. He graduated from Chesterton High School in 1949. Not having funds to attend college, he was lucky enough to be the recipient of the Exceptional Achievement Scholarship (All Expense) for his four undergraduate years. This scholarship was only given to one boy and one girl in the state of Indiana. He attended Purdue University, where he received his BS degree in physics in 1953. He received his MS degree in physics from Purdue in 1955 and his Ph.D. degree in physics from Stanford University in 1962.

Gerry enlisted in the Army in 1955 and served from 1955 - 1957 as a Physicist at the Army Chemical Center, Edgewood, Maryland. He was part of a special scientific team with top secret clearance. President Eisenhower and Secretary of Defense Charlie Wilson, were directing a new defense concept which included greater reliance on nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Gerry's team was deployed to the Pacific Nuclear Proving Grounds, Eniwetok, Bikini Atoll for testing the hydrogen bomb (Operation Redwing). Gerry also participated in experiments at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, Mercury, Nevada. Many of Gerry's life-long friendships began during his Army days.

Gerry joined the Department of Physics at Yale University as a Research Associate and Lecturer in 1962 and became an Assistant Professor in 1964. In 1968 he was a Visiting Scientist at the Instituut voor Kemphysisch Onderzoek, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Gerry then accepted a position of Professor of Physics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and moved to Amherst with his young family. He spent the remainder of his academic career at UMass. Gerry directed an experimental research team that conducted the majority of their nuclear experiments at the Bates Linear Accelerator Center (MIT), and at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) at Stanford University. He was the principal investigator for grants and contracts from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Energy Research and Development Administration, and the Department of Energy from 1970-2000. He received fellowships from NATO Senior Science, U.K. Science Research Council, Max Planck Institute, University of Mainz, West Germany, Israel-U.S. Binational Science Foundation, and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. He was a Visiting Professor at the Kelvin Laboratory, Glasgow University, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1969, 1970; at the Laboratory of Nuclear Science, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan, 1972; at the University of Mainz, West Germany, 1975; at Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1983; and at Shizuoka University, Shizuoka, Japan, 1989. His research collaborations included visiting scholars and students from around the world and he was an author on over 200 research publications in his field of electron scattering and nuclear structure. Gerry was a Fellow of the American Physical Society. In addition, he taught many graduate and undergraduate physics courses. On retirement in 2000, he continued to actively participate in university and physics department activities as Emeritus Professor of Physics, and was the editor for the yearly physics departmental newsletter until 2017.

Gerry was a member of First Congregational Church in Amherst. Because of his deep concern for the environment, he helped introduce energy efficiencies into the church building.

His memory will continue to be dearly held by Doris, his beloved wife of 67 years; his two sons and one daughter, Curt and wife Ruth of Bellevue, Washington, Thomas of Leverett, Massachusetts, and Anna Beth Peterson of Glacier, Washington; five grandchildren, KT Peterson and Blair Peterson (Curt), Kyler Lee, Michael Stoothoff, and Jamie Stoothoff (Anna Beth); and niece, Jacqueline Nelson of Porter, Indiana.

A memorial service will be planned for a future date.

Donations may be made in his memory to the Department of Physics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, mailed to UMass Amherst Records & Gift Processing, 134 Hicks Way, Memorial Hall, UMass, Amherst, MA 01003, or to a charity of your choosing.

Memorial register at



Posted 4/27/2020




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