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USC College Physics Professor Dies

John Nodvik was a “Stalwart” of the Physics Department’s Graduate Program

By Kaitlin Solimine
January 2005

Physicist John Nodvik, longtime member of the faculty of the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences and former chairman of the physics department, died Dec. 29 from complications after lung surgery. He was 74.

Nodvik was well known for his teaching of the core course “Introduction to Theoretical Physics” and for his work as one of the main graduate advisors in the physics department. He served as the department’s co-chairman from 1978 to 1984, as department chairman from 1982 to 1984 and as associate department chairman of graduate studies from 1984 to 1995.

Nodvik joined the USC faculty in 1958 after completing graduate work in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology and UCLA. He also spent time at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he worked out the noteworthy Franz-Nodvik equation for laser sciences.

Nodvik is widely remembered at USC for his work with graduate students. His class on “Mathematical Physics” for first year graduate students, which he taught over his entire career at USC, was a legend among students who went through the program, said friend and colleague Tu-nan Chang, writing from a sabbatical term in Taiwan.

“At a reunion of USC physics alumni a few years back, many of the alums talked about how much that course had impacted their career professionally,” says Chang, professor of physics and astronomy.

Indeed, Nodvik’s own graduate advisor while at UCLA, David Saxon, a well-known theoretical physicist, once said that every physics department needs a John Nodvik, relates friend and colleague Bill Spitzer.

Spitzer, emeritus professor of physics, continues: “I had the pleasure of serving as department co-chair with John for three years. It is fair to say that for many years, John was the cornerstone of the graduate program in physics.”

In both his personal and professional lives, Nodvik is remembered as a caring person who touched and impacted the lives and careers of many of the department’s former students.

“John had a great career that he, his family and all his colleagues and friends can be proud of,” says Chang. “I lost a great colleague and a dear friend.”

Spitzer agrees. “While in post-op recovery in the hospital several years ago, I was feeling very low—then John found me there and cheered me up with news about things happening outside of the hospital walls. For that one act, John will always remain in my memory as a friend.”

Nodvik is survived by his wife, Sara Lee Nodvik; sons Ron (B.A., ’89), Robert (B.S. ’80, M.S. ’82), and Jerry (B.S. ’84); daughter Lori Nodvik Stone (B.S. ’89), and grandchildren Athena, Erin and William Nodvik, and Lindsay, Kelly and Melanie Stone.