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In Memoriam: Paul Zweifel of the Department of Physics, supporter of Moss Arts Center

February 27, 2017

Paul Zweifel

Paul Zweifel and his wife, Kathleen McKay Zweifel.
Paul Zweifel and his wife, Kathleen McKay Zweifel.

Paul Frederick Zweifel, a University Distinguished Professor in the Virginia Tech College of Science’s Department of Physics and a longtime supporter of the arts at Virginia Tech and in Blacksburg, died Feb. 12.

He was 87.

Zweifel was born in New York in 1929, and later moved to South Carolina. From there, he attended Carnegie-Melon University in Pittsburgh, where he was suite mates with famed mathematician John Nash, according to an obituary provided by McCoy Funeral Home of Blacksburg.

He later earned a doctoral degree from Duke University and afterward worked as a sports journalist, before taking a faculty position at the University of Michigan, where he taught nuclear engineering.

He joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1968. While at Virginia Tech, he was awarded the U.S. Department of Energy’s E. O. Lawrence Medal in 1972 and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1975. He also was a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

“Paul was an internationally known expert in transport theory,” said Mark Pitt, current chair of the physics department. “He established the Center for Transport Theory and Mathematical Physics here, and he was the founder of the International Conference on Transport Theory, which was frequently held in Blacksburg, including a special symposium on the occasion of Paul’s 60th birthday in 1989.”

“Paul was a champion for the topic of mathematical physics here at Virginia Tech, and played a critical role in the area of neutron transport theory,” said Lay Nam Chang, former dean of the College of Science, who previously served as chair of the Department of Physics.

Professor Emeritus of Physics L. David Roper remembered Zweifel as a champion of hiring female physicists during the 1990s, and for bringing renowned physicists to campus for guest lectures.

Zweifel was a lifelong music lover and a musician himself. He began studying music at age 4, and received a cello from his parents as a child. He took voice lessons in high school, and later performed as a vocalist. During a sabbatical in Florence, Italy, he became choir director of the American Church in Florence, according to his obituary.

Post-retirement from the Department of Physics in 1996, he taught an opera course at Virginia Tech and pursued a business providing supertitles for opera companies across the country. He and his wife, Kathleen McKay Zweifel, were supporters of Virginia Tech’s Moss Arts Center and also endowed a scholarship to help students majoring in music be able to attend summer music festivals or professional development workshops.

McCoy Funeral Home of Blacksburg served the family. 

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