Brookhaven scientist Brice Rustad's untimely death in 1965 at age 43

Brookhaven scientist Brice Rustad's untimely death in 1965 at age 43

Having listed some of Brice Rustad's scientific contributions in the last post, here is what I have been able to learn about his life. 

He came from Norwegian and Swedish stock out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents were Louis Lars Rustad, born in St. Paul in 1897, and Edith E. Swanson. They married in 1916 and had three children. Brice was the middle child, born September 11, 1921. He was baptized at the Christ Lutheran Church in St. Paul.

The family was not well-off but upwardly mobile. Louis worked first as a real-estate appraiser, then a design engineer and later as a bookkeeper. When Brice was finishing high school, the family moved to Chicago for a time, but he returned to the Twin Cities in the fall to begin studies at the  University of Minnesota. 

He already knew he intended to major in physics because his 1940 census record lists his occupation  as a physics student at the U. of Minnesota. He must have been a junior in December 1941 for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He registered for the draft a few months later. 

However, it seems he did not serve in the military. According to a 1944 marriage notice in the Arizona Republic, he graduated from UM and began graduate studies there, later taking a position with the Columbia University physics department doing "war research."

That would have been at about the same time that C.S. Wu had been hired at Columbia and where she was known to be a key contributor to the university's Manhattan Project work on uranium separation. It's likely Rustad was working as a research assistant in that same lab.

On his 23rd birthday, September 11, 1944, he married Mary Kennedy Clohessy, the daughter of a Phoenix doctor, who had recently graduated from Barnard College. They lived at 512 W. 122nd St. in the war years, and then moved to Shoreham, Long Island in 1948 when Brice was assigned to the newly opened Brookhaven. Two children, Eric and then Lindsey, were born.

Like Stan, Brice resumed his war-interrupted studies and was working toward his doctorate in the Wu orbit at Columbia and Brookhaven. 

I won't here retell the story of the ill-fated experiment of Rustad and Ruby, except to reiterate what I mentioned in the last post. Unlike Stan, he remained at Brookhaven in a staff scientist position following his student years, and indeed for the rest of his career except for the sabbatical year in Denmark. 

We have the passenger manifest that shows the family's return from Denmark in December 1962. Brice resumed his staff position at Brookhaven while publishing several papers with his Danish collaborators and undertaking new work at the lab. 

The 1963 paper describing his experiment with Joseph Vise that I mentioned in the last post was essentially a redo of the Rustad-Ruby experiment ten years later by a different method. This time the results pointed to the opposite conclusion. 

On May 31, 1965, Brice Rustad suffered a sudden heart attack and passed away at the age of 43. We know some of the details from a death notice in the New York Times. He died while at home in Belle Terre, Long Island, leaving behind his wife and two children, as well as his siblings and mother, now a widow living in Oakland, Calif. 

The news clipping says that Rustad "attended Columbia University" and "did graduate work in physics there." It does not say that he received a doctoral degree from Columbia, which it likely would have if that were so. If Rustad was also denied his doctorate in the aftermath of the experiment, we may need to reevaluate our opinion that the experiment reversal was not the reason for Stan's unfinished academic career.