Jan. 28, 2009

Leader in plasma physics studies Ravi Sudan dies at 77

Sudan in 1989

Ravi Sudan, the IBM Professor Emeritus of Engineering at Cornell and a leader in the field of plasma physics, died Jan. 22 in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was 77 years old.

Sudan, who became an emeritus faculty member in 2001, served as director of the Laboratory of Plasma Studies from 1975-85, in the School of Electrical Engineering (now the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering). He co-founded, with Kenneth G. Wilson, the Cornell Theory Center in 1984, serving as that facility's deputy director from 1985-87. Sudan also served as head of theoretical plasma physics at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory from1970-71.

Sudan made many contributions to the field of plasma physics, beginning with his 1963 independent discovery of the "whistler instability," the physical mechanism causing low-frequency radio emissions from the magnetosphere. His later research included contributions to the theory of plasma instability and turbulence, as well as pioneering work on the generation and propagation of intense ion beams.

Sudan was born in 1931 in Chinani, India. After earning his B.A. from the University of Punjab in 1948 and his D.I.I.Sci. from Bangalore in 1952, he moved to England on a Tata Fellowship to work on his Ph.D. at Imperial College, University of London, which he completed in 1955. He came to Cornell in 1958 as a research associate, was appointed to full professor in 1968 and in 1975 was named the IBM Professor of Engineering.

Sudan was "a very focused person and scientist," said David Hammer, the J. Carlton Ward Jr. Professor of Nuclear Energy Engineering, who worked with Sudan in developing intense ion beams. "He was a very strong leader [who] tried to generate the best kind of work from the people who worked with him."

Sudan first came to the School of Electrical Engineering in 1958, joining professor Simpson "Sam" Linke's lab as a research associate in the field of electric power and machinery.

Sudan's initial research with Linke in power circuit breakers and the physics of electrical breakdown in vacuum was what stimulated his interested in the then-emerging field of plasma physics. In the early 1960s, Sudan developed and introduced two senior- and graduate-level plasma-physics courses in electrical engineering and applied and engineering physics.

Among Sudan's many accolades throughout his career was his 1989 receipt of the James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics from the American Physical Society. In 1994 the Academy of Science of the Czech Republic awarded Sudan the Gold Medal for Physical Sciences.

He is survived by his wife, Dipali, and extended family. Funeral services will be held Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. at Bangs Funeral Home, 209 W. Green St. in Ithaca.