On August 17, 2016, Professor Emeritus Paul Flohr Yergin passed away at his home in Palm Springs, California. Professor Yergin was born April 21, 1923 in the Bronx, New York, and was an active member of the faculty at Rensselaer for 37 years, advising and educating many undergraduate and graduate physics students, many of whom are still active research physicists. He is survived by his long-time partner Kenneth Coons, whom he married in 2014, his daughters Ann Byrne and Susan Sakaye, and his son-in-law Ross Byrne
Professor Yergin grew up in the Bronx, the youngest of six children of Presbyterian minister Reverend Howard Vernon Yergin and Ida Flohr, a former opera singer. He attended and graduated from the selective Townsend Harris High School, operated by the New York City Board of Higher Education, before spending one year at the City College of New York. After this he worked briefly and then was admitted to Union College in Schenectady, New York in the Fall of 1941. There he became involved with a group of students working on developing “wired radio” technology that was used on campus, and contributed to building the necessary circuits and installing wiring systems. Because of the on-going war effort, some of the regular faculty were unavailable and Yergin was asked to teach laboratory sections of physics as a Junior. He also spent some time working on research and development at the General Electric research laboratory.
After graduating from Union College, Yergin was admitted to graduate school in physics at Columbia University. There he became an employee of Columbia Radiation Laboratory, a secret organization that was doing advanced research and development on radar systems in cooperation with the Radiation Laboratory at MIT. In June, 1947, Yergin married Eunice Carlson, and shortly thereafter began PhD research under the direction of Professor Willis Lamb on the fine structure of singly-ionized helium. His wife Eunice passed away in 2009.
Professor Yergin graduated with a PhD from Columbia in 1952, having previously received an MS from Columbia, and took a position as Instructor of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania. There he conducted research using a 28 MeV betatron, and was promoted to assistant professor. His first daughter Ann was born during his time at the University of Pennsylvania. He learned that RPI would be acquiring a betatron from General Electric and was urged by the newly appointed RPI faculty member from Switzerland, Dr. Heinrich A. Medicus to apply for a position at Rensselaer, because of his experience with betatrons. He joined the faculty in 1956 and began experimental research in nuclear physics at RPI, and continued doing so for many decades. His second daughter Susan was born after he arrived at Rensselaer.
Professor Yergin contributed in significant ways to research conducted at the RPI Linac, which is still in use today. As time went on, the nuclear physics group moved their research to the MIT-Bates Linac, NIKEF in Amsterdam and SLAC in Stanford, California. Finally, before his retirement, Yergin worked on building a large Cherenkov detector for the CEBAF Large Acceptance Spectrometer (CLAS) apparatus at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab) in Newport News, Virginia. He was instrumental in designing the optics for this detector. This involved computations specifying the necessary arrangement of 432 primary mirrors (elliptical + hyperbolic) and 432 secondary mirrors (Winston cones + additional non-focusing mirrors). This detector performed very well over the 15 years that CLAS was operational. Professor Yergin retired from RPI in 1993.
In addition to his contributions to physics, Paul Yergin took an interest in solving the mystery surrounding Shakespeare’s sonnets. In 2015 he published the book “Shakespeare's Sonnets to the Boy: Dates, Events, People.”