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Guide to the Larry Spruch Papers MC 209

Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY, 10012
(212) 998-2641

New York University Archives

Collection processed by Alex Starace and revised by Norma Chaires. Inventory prepared by Catriona Schlosser and Celeste Brewer. Additional description by Celeste Brewer.

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on August 05, 2015 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biography of Larry Spruch

Theoretical physicist Larry Spruch (1923-2006) was a longtime member of the faculty of the Department of Physics at New York University. He was born on January 1, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York, and earned a B.S. from Brooklyn College in 1943. He then enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania as a Ph.D. candidate in Physics. His thesis work, "On the beta decay of the triton" (1948), was supervised by Leonard I. Schiff.

While attending the University of Pennsylvania, Spruch was an instructor from 1943 to 1946 and a Tyndale Fellow from 1946 to 1948. After earning his Ph.D., he became an Atomic Energy Commission Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working on problems in nuclear physics with Herman Feshbach and Victor Weisskopf. After two years at MIT, Spruch accepted the position of Assistant Professor at New York University in 1950. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1955 and full Professor in 1961. Upon his official retirement in 1994, he was honored with Professor Emeritus status.

Spruch taught a variety of courses for graduate and undergraduate students at NYU. Some would be expected of a professor with a background in theoretical nuclear and atomic physics: Scattering Theory, Quantum Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, and Mathematical Physics, among others. Yet he also taught a series of courses intended to make physics accessible to non-majors, by illustrating its relevance to everyday life in layman’s terms. These courses included Physics and Society, Physics for Poets, and Intelligent Life in the Universe. As of 1998, Spruch had also supervised 21 Ph.D. dissertations and 17 postdoctoral fellowships at NYU.

In addition to teaching, Spruch was a very active researcher. His work covered a wide range of issues in nuclear and particle physics, as well as selected topics in astrophysics. Throughout the course of his career, he published over 150 scientific papers in journals such as The Physical Review,  Journal of Mathematical Physics, and  Nuclear Physics. He also served as guest editor, with James F. Babb and Peter W. Milonni, of a special issue of  Comments on Modern Physics on Casimir forces in 2000. Spruch is best known for his developments in scattering theory, investigations of Casimir forces, and contributions to the problem of determining necessary conditions for the existence of bound states. He frequently collaborated with other physicists in conducting research, most notably Edward Gerjuoy, Yukap Hahn, Edward Kelsey, Thomas F. O’Malley, A. R. P. Rau, Leonard Rosenberg, and Robin Shakeshaft.

Spruch further contributed to his field through service as a member of the editorial boards of The Physical Review A and  Zeitschrift für Physik A, a correspondent for  Comments on Atomic and Molecular Physics, and a consultant for Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. He also served as part of a delegation of scholars for the China-U.S. Physics Examination and Application (CUSPEA) program. CUSPEA was an examination and admission system used by the physics departments of selected American and Canadian universities for graduate student applicants from the People's Republic of China between 1979 and 1989. Along with other physics professors from participating North American universities, Spruch assisted with interviewing applicants and the preparation of exam questions. He traveled to China in 1985 as part of his work with CUSPEA.

Spruch’s career was marked by numerous awards and honors. Highlights include the Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship (1948-50), National Science Foundation Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship for the University of London and Oxford University (1963-64), Brooklyn College’s Alumni Award for Merit (1967), membership in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University (1981), the Alexander von Humboldt Award (1985), the NYU Golden Dozen Teaching Award (1991), and the Davisson-Germer Prize (1992). For the Alexander von Humboldt Award, Spruch cooperated on a long-term research project with colleagues at the Max Planck Institut Für Kernphysik in Heidelberg, Germany. In addition to these awards, Spruch attended and spoke at more than 100 conferences around the world, and attended the summer Aspen Center for Physics in Aspen, Colorado, for 30 years.

Larry Spruch shared with his wife, the physicist Grace Marmor Spruch, an interest in making science and mathematics accessible and interesting to the general public. The pair co-authored a series of quizzes which appeared monthly in the magazine The Sciences, and were later collected and published as  21 Astounding Science Quizzes! The Spruchs also published  The Ubiquitous Atom!, a book which describes the foundations of atomic physics and its applications to biology, genetics, medicine, and archaeology. Larry Spruch spent several years developing and refining a collection of mathematics and logic puzzles with a sports theme, but that manuscript remains unpublished.

After his official retirement, Larry Spruch continued his physics research at New York University. He died on August 10, 2006, in New York City.