David De Young

David S. De Young, portrait by Bernice Durand

The Aspen Center for Physics was deeply saddened at the death of David De Young on December 2, 2011. 1972 was his first year at the Center and he returned every summer through 2011. Dave has been the only Colorado native and University of Colorado graduate to serve as President of the Center. After graduating from CU, he received his PhD in physics and astronomy from Cornell University in 1967 and joined the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in 1969. In 1980, he left NRAO to join NOAO where he served until his retirement in 2011.

Once the Center came to grips with the fact that computing had become an integral part of Center life, the expansion and stability of the bandwidth required ongoing attention. Dave saw to it that the computing system improved every year, due in large measure to the significant efforts of Andy Cohen, who addressed wireless networking, use of professional assistance in maintaining the computer systems, and the generation of a long-range plan for computing at ACP.

Under Dave’s direction, Randy Durand began a much-needed revision of the ACP Bylaws resulting in modifications in the definitions of the responsibilities of Honorary Trustees and Honorary Members, and clarifications of procedure consistent with both existing practices and the internal structure of the Bylaws. Two important changes assured that the Center continue to include “young Turks,” as Michael Turner labeled the upcoming leadership: 1) For Members completing their first term, renewal should be recommended if the member has been active in the Center and wishes to remain so; 2) For members who have served two or more terms, renewal should be viewed as the exception rather than the norm; non-renewal should not be seen as a negative judgment. Other important Bylaw changes included formally establishing a Winter Conference Committee, which had been in existence for years before being an official mandate and setting Standards of Conduct.

Dave devoted a great deal of energy to further increase the Center’s financial stability by securing a NASA grant of $30,000 per year for three years. This was three times that of previous NASA funding of the Center’s activities. Dave also presided over a very successful NSF site visit in 2003. Closer to home, an Annual Fund was established to solicit donations from past and present General Members. Careful fiscal management and generous donations had paid off the all outstanding loans on the Smart Hall building, and during Dave’s tenure the Center was able to start focusing on building an endowment.

The 40th Anniversary Celebration occurred during Dave’s presidency. A special committee chaired by Bernice Durand produced several events and a video, “Aspen Center for Physics – The Founding,” featuring Michael Cohen, Bob Craig and George Stranahan. The Center again participated in the 4th of July Parade with four red jeeps loaded with enthusiastic physicists in red “40th” T-shirts. The parade was followed by a memorable Ice Cream Social on July 6th. The town was invited; Bea Block and Maggie DeWolf and some of the physicists hand made ice cream using liquid nitrogen thus creating quite a party.

The 40th Anniversary engendered Dave’s rehabilitating the Long-Range Planning Committee and his appointing Tom Appelquist as chair. The group looked at the broad issues that had been guiding the Center in its first 40 years. The committee concluded that the broad policies and structures that ACP had developed over four decades continued to serve it well. They did not propose major structural changes, but encouraged stronger enforcement and acknowledgement of existing policies like the length-of-stay issue. In the very early years some physicists were able to stay for two months which allowed for extended collaborations and discussions. Today the ACP encourages three-week stays, but faces the changing face of funding and summer options where grants will not cover many weeks or where other new venues, conferences and summer schools compete with the ACP for physicists’ commitments. The committee also suggested changing the Bethe library annex/computer center space back to a seminar room since online journals were making paper libraries less crucial. The reclaimed seminar room gets heavy use by summer workshops and has allowed the ACP Board to once again meet on its own campus.

Dave also renewed the Center’s partnership with the Aspen Institute after a many-year hiatus by collaborating on an Einstein Convocation. The goal was to bring the two institutions closer together, as well as to speak to both scientists and lay people. It proved to be an organizational challenge to embrace the many agendas presented, and the archives attest to Dave’s expenditure of energy and diplomacy. The end result was a huge success. Speakers and panelists included nearly twenty Aspen Center for Physics board members. The lively and inquisitive discussions spoke to scientists and nonscientists alike, and the mix was electric.

Dave De Young had clear goals for his tenure as ACP President and carried them out successfully. Dave was a regular runner and competed in the July 4th run in Aspen each summer. He was always upbeat and an enthusiastic supporter of the Aspen Center for Physics. We will miss him.

David S. De Young, portrait by Bernice Durand

Positions Held

Trustee, 1973 – 1981 & 1991 – 2001
Scientific Secretary, 1980 – 1981
General Member, 1990 – 2006
President, 2001 – 2004
Honorary Trustee, 2006 – 2011