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Charles Latif Hyder (1930–2004)

Published onDec 01, 2004
Charles Latif Hyder (1930–2004)

My friend and colleague, Charles Hyder, was a true physicist with a sound intuitive grasp of fundamentals in modern physics and the underlying mathematics. I admired his knowledge of the history of modern physics and quantum mechanics when we discussed contemporary problems in interpreting solar observations. He had the ability to present his ideas clearly and persuasively to both students and his colleagues. His insatiable curiosity about life in general led him to consider the effects of nuclear weapons development on the human race. Appreciation of the biological effects of radioactive materials produced in the course of weapons and power reactor development led him to a more public career beyond traditional research.

Charles Hyder was born April 18, 1930 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He graduated from Albuquerque High School and served in the Air Force during the Korean War. He received a BS and MS in physics from the University of New Mexico (1958, 1960) and a PhD in astrogeophysics at the University of Colorado (1964). His positions included the Department of Astronomy and Institute of Geophysics at UCLA (1964-65), Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory (1965-1970) and the Goddard Space Flight Center (1970-1977). He also taught at the University of New Mexico (1970-1977) and was active on the Solar Maximum Mission science team (1970-1977, 1980-1984). He was married twice with both marriages ending in divorce. He and his first wife Ann had three children (Paul, Roxanne and Querida) and he and his second wife Laurie had a son Niels.

Charles Hyder's professional career in solar physics began in 1961 during his graduate studies at the Department of AstroGeophysics of the University of Colorado and continued until 1983 when he chose to follow his convictions to expose the threat of nuclear proliferation. His early research was in the study of the quantum mechanics of polarized light produced in the presence of magnetic fields. Application of this work to interpretation of solar spectra was a basic theme in fifty-one papers published between 1963 and 1983. Charles' interest in solar prominences and flares led him to study the physics of in-falling plasma in solar active regions and the production of the so-called "two ribbon" flares associated with active region prominences. His final work in solar physics was done on the Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) in collaboration with colleagues at Goddard Space Flight Center and Marshall Space Flight Center.

After 1983, Charles' devoted his full energy to exposing the threat of nuclear weapons and reactor by-products in the biosphere. His was a very public crusade with a seven month fast in Lafayette Park, Washington D.C. and a vigorous opposition to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) at Carlsbad, New Mexico. His analysis emphasized the need to understand convection of "hot" containers of radioactive waste in the WIPP salt bed. He concluded that the containers would eventually emerge at the surface and be a biological threat. His greatest fear was that dispersal of plutonium in small amounts worldwide was inevitably leading to biological mutation and destruction of life as we know it.

We all remember his imposing stature and the strength of his arguments in discussions of life, physics, and the dangers of radioactive materials dispersed on the Earth. He led an unconventional life where he truly reveled in learning and earnestly worked to make a difference.


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