K. Bingham Cady, professor emeritus of nuclear engineering in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, died Dec. 10 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He was 84.
In a career that straddled academia and industry, Cady helped improve the safety of nuclear fission reactors by developing computer modeling software that could simulate – and assess the risk of – how reactors respond to operational fluctuations and accidents.
“He was part of a generation of reactor theorists that was trained at a remarkably deep level, in large part because they did their Ph.D.’s directly under people who came out of the Manhattan Project, and so were the founders of the field, or they had worked with the students or postdocs of those people,” said former student Mark Deinert ’96, Ph.D. ’03. “He had that really rigorous analytical introduction to the subject that kind of isn’t taught anymore, anywhere. He was great.”
Cady was born in Chicago in 1936. A prodigy, he entered the University of Wisconsin, Madison, at the age of 15 through a Ford Foundation pre-induction scholarship. Cady soon transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied naval architecture and marine engineering – reflecting his lifelong interest in sailing and building boats, including a brief stint in the Merchant Marine. He received his B.S in 1956 and a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering in 1962.
While at MIT, Cady began his first foray outside academia, working for the Moore McCormack Steamship Company; the shipbuilding division of the Bethlehem Steel Company, where he was in charge of installing the secondary shielding of the nuclear reactor on the USS Long Beach, the first nuclear-powered surface warship; and the engineering firm of Jackson and Moreland.
Cady began teaching at Cornell in 1962, which was something of a boom time for the field of nuclear engineering at the university. For the next 49 years, Cady taught in the departments of applied and engineering physics, nuclear science and engineering, and theoretical and applied mechanics.
He served as the College of Engineering’s associate dean for professional programs from 1984-85, and associate dean for college affairs from 1985-90.
Cady loved teaching, and kept tabs on the progress of his former students, always taking pride in their publications and professional accomplishments.
Deinert first met Cady as an undergraduate studying agricultural engineering.
“He was really persuasive about the virtues of nuclear power,” said Deinert, now an associate professor at the Colorado School of Mines. “He said that nuclear power could provide the kind of electricity that coal does, and it would be emissions free. So it would be much softer on the environment. That slowly drew me into his orbit when I was looking for places to go to graduate school.”
Deinert worked with Cady as a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher, investigating pollution transport in the earth’s subsurface and, later, the economic modeling of nuclear fuel cycles and different reactor designs.
They remained friends for 30 years.
“Bing was a terrific adviser. He had a rare ability to simplify really complex problems, and find the simplicity in complex problems,” Deinert said. “Nuclear energy systems have a lot of degrees of freedom; there are a lot of moving parts. It’s really essential to be able to reduce those down to the essential variables to be able to say anything informative.”
Following the partial meltdown of a reactor and the ensuing radiation leak at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, Cady participated in an industrywide effort to analyze how light-water reactors could handle degraded-core and melted-core accidents. Cady and his team contributed to the computer-code systems and physical modeling required for the development of the Modular Accident Analysis Program (MAAP), which became the industry standard for simulating the response of nuclear reactors to severe accidents and stabilizing their performance.
“In the 1960s, Bing developed some really foundational techniques, which he referred to as response theory, that would allow you – with real simplicity – to understand the transient behavior of a system with hundreds or even thousands of free parameters,” Deinert said.
Cady’s response theory wasn’t limited to nuclear power. It also found applications in other engineering systems and systems analysis in the physical sciences, the quantitative social sciences and business.
While on various sabbaticals from Cornell, Cady was a consultant for a number of companies and national laboratories, including Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory; the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission’s Division of Nuclear Licensing; the Department of Nuclear Energy, Brookhaven National Laboratory; Hanford Engineering Development Laboratory; Fauske and Associates, Inc.; and the Milwaukee Company Properties, Inc.
He also served as president of the Niagara-Finger Lakes section of the American Nuclear Society.
“Bing did a tremendous amount of consulting, and he had a lot of influence in those domains,” Deinert said. “A lot of his academic influence came from where his students wound up going. Bing had students at MIT and UC Berkeley, the University of Texas at Austin, international universities. He put a lot of people in really, really high-powered organizations.”
Cady was a member of Phi Eta Sigma, Sigma Xi and Tau Beta Pi. In addition to being a Ford Foundation scholar, he received a Bethlehem Steel fellowship, a Woodrow Wilson fellowship and a U.S. Atomic Energy Commission fellowship in nuclear science and engineering.
After he retired from Cornell in 2011, Cady moved back to Chicago, where he enjoyed spending time with his family and sailing on Lake Michigan. Four of his five children attended Cornell, and he taught all of them to swim and sail on Cayuga Lake.
Cady is survived by his partner, Janet Reece; a sister, Susan Westby; children Julia Cady Marrocco ’77 (Dante), Sarah Cady Minas (Ed), Nell Cady-Kruse ’84, MBA ’85 (Steve), C. Conrad Cady ’86 (Laura) and Courtney Cady Wood ’98 (Sean); and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.