Bernice Durand

This memorial obituary was originally published by The Aspen Times here.
Letter to the Editor written by Jeremy Bernstein, published in Aspen Daily News here.
Read the memorial resolution from the University of Wisconsin faculty senate here.

Bernice Durand, a 40-year part-time and 11-year full-time resident of Aspen, died peacefully on February 7 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease after several years of decline. She was born in Clarion, Iowa, to Henry Montgomery Black and Bernice Bernard Black while her father was in Europe during World War II where he was chief engineer for Utah beach for the invasion of Europe, and for the VIIth Corps in its trek across the continent. After a brief stay at the Pentagon at the end of the war, he moved the family to Ames, Iowa, where he had been appointed head of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University (ISU). Bernice grew up in Ames where she had an opportunity to observe scientists and engineers at work at ISU. This had a deep influence on her future career, and she decided early that she wanted to be a physicist.

Bernice was precocious, inventing advanced mathematics and excelling on piano from the time she was only a few years old. She started her work in physics when she was 15, helping on nuclear experiments at the Ames Synchrotron at ISU where she taken seriously by the senior physicists, an interest in her development that she always appreciated. Bernice graduated from Ames High School two years early, then went to Harvard/Radcliffe at age 16 to major in physics. After the death of her mother, she returned to Ames to live with her father, completing her B.S. and Ph.D. degrees at ISU.

Bernice moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970 where she had a postdoctoral position and was appointed a Lecturer in the Physics Department. It was there that she met her husband of 51 years, Loyal (Randy) Durand, a professor in the department. They were married after a whirlwind romance, and were extremely close, noted for always holding hands as they walked around campus or elsewhere. Bernice joined the tenure-track faculty in 1977, received tenure in 1986, and became a full professor in 1992. During the early parts of her career, Bernice was suffering from kidney failure from polycystic disease, a huge impediment. She received a kidney from her older brother in 1981 which lasted through her life, though other aspects of the disease continued to affect her.

As a faculty member, Bernice directed 9 Ph.D. students and 3 M.S. students in a research program in theoretical particle physics and mathematical physics supported by the Department of Energy. During her career, she held visiting research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. She taught courses at all levels, from “Ideas of Modern Physics’ for nonscientists to a specialized course “Advanced Mathematics in Quantum Field Theory” which she developed for senior graduate students. Her teaching was recognized by the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Teaching. Bernice was early to adopt technology in her teaching, converting “Ideas of Modern Physics” to one of the first two television/web-based courses at the university. It went through several iterations and was shown for a number of years on public television in Wisconsin and on Grassroots TV in Aspen. As a result, she was known informally both places as “the physics lady.” She also greatly enjoyed giving public lectures, with one of her favorites a talk on “The Sky” sponsored by the Aspen Skiing Company and the Aspen Center for Physics given on top of Aspen Mountain.

Bernice was very active in faculty governance at the university, chairing many important committees, among others the Curriculum Committee which developed and implemented the university’s ethnic studies requirement, the Diversity Development and Oversight Committee, the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, the Library Committee, and the Athletic Board. Coming from a field with very few female participants, just 2% in physics when she started, Bernice worked very hard to increase the number of women and minorities in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering, including through co-writing the university’s diversity plan and as a co-director of a diversity development grant from the National Science Foundation. Her work was recognized by a special Chancellor’s Recognition Award for Outstanding Contributions to Campus Diversity in 2002, and by the second Wisconsin Alumni Association Cabinet 99 Award for “outstanding contributions to the university, a commitment for increasing opportunities for women, and a reputation for leadership, tenacity, and courage” the same year. In her last five years at the university, she was appointed an Associate Vice Chancellor and the first Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, with responsibility for all university diversity and campus climate programs. A Faculty Fellowship in Physics has since been established in her honor.

Bernice had a long association with the Aspen Center for Physics, becoming the first female general member and trustee of the Center, and later an honorary trustee. She was again deeply involved in promoting diversity and encouraging young women in physics, hosting weekly lunch meetings for the women at the Center at the Durands’ home. In other activities, she chaired diversity committees at the Space Telescope Science Institute and for the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, and served on the Physics visiting committee at Iowa State University and on the ISU LAS Dean’s Advisory Council. To promote diversity in science, Bernice and her husband Loyal endowed undergraduate research fellowships in Physics and Astronomy for women and underrepresented groups at both Wisconsin and ISU. In her retirement Bernice greatly enjoyed gardening and piano, playing serious contemporary music as long as she was able.

Bernice is survived by her husband Loyal and three stepsons, Travis, Tim, and Chris Durand, whom she helped to raise from early ages, and by five nieces and nephews.

Learn more at
Read the memorial resolution from the University of Wisconsin faculty senate here.

Positions Held

Trustee, 1980 – 1986 & 1991 – 1993
General Member, 1990 – 2000
Honorary Trustee, 2001 – 2022