Aron Bernstein: In Memoriam (Robert Redwine)

Like many of you, I knew Aron for quite a long time. I knew him a bit before I joined the faculty at MIT, because he was of course already an imminent scientist in the field of experimental nuclear physics. I got to know him a lot better after I joined the faculty. Not only was he a great source of wisdom when it came to physics, but he was very supportive in all sorts of ways, including just the major adjustment that is necessary when taking on a new position like a faculty member at MIT. It is hard to overstate how important Aron’s support was for me and for many other people.

Aron and I collaborated on a number of experiments, especially at the MIT Bates Linear Accelerator in Middleton. As some of you know, these experiments would typically take data for several weeks, and during that time we ran 24 hours a day. So of course, we did shifts. If you ever wondered what a good way to really get to know someone is, I would suggest running shifts with them. It was a true pleasure to spend such shifts with Aron.

There is of course a long history of MIT faculty involvement in efforts to limit and hopefully eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons. This began with faculty who had worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II, in particular Victor Weisskopf, Anthony French, and Philip Morrison. Most such scientists had been motivated to work on the Manhattan Project because of their fear that Nazi Germany would develop nuclear weapons. When the war in Europe ended in May 1945 they were very disappointed that the U.S. did not immediately end the Manhattan Project and especially disappointed when nuclear weapons were used on Japan.

In the years after the war, many other faculty members joined the efforts to promote nuclear disarmament, including Aron. Aron was very passionate about this effort and ended up in a leadership role. For example, Aron and colleagues started the MIT Nuclear Weapons Education Project (NWEP), with the main goal of making sure that younger generations, who of course had not grown up during the Cold War, are aware of the existential threat that they pose. The main focus for this was the creation and steady expansion of a website with lots of relevant information for young people and especially for educators of young people.

I worked with Aron on the NWEP and, when he passed away, assumed the leadership of it. I am happy to say that it continues to provide critical information to a large number of people. We currently receive about 25,000 hits per day on the website.

Aron truly made a difference in the world, as you can see from the example of the NWEP. But it is important to emphasize that he also made a really positive difference to those close to him. I miss him so much, as I am sure so many of you do.