In Memoriam: Keith W. Jones
June 5, 2018
Physicist and Senior Scientist Emeritus Keith W. Jones died on July 28, 2017, aged 88. Jones arrived at Brookhaven two years after its 1947 founding, spending the summers of 1949 and 1950 as an intern in the Proton Synchrotron Division. He held the life number 2414—today the Laboratory is up to 26,100. He officially joined the Physics Department in 1963, transferred to Environmental & Climate Science in 1984, and, in 2012, retired and was granted emeritus status after almost five decades of service. Jones then continued commuting to the Lab to work on experiments and educational initiatives. In the last year of his life, he was a co-author on two papers and a book chapter.
At Jones’ retirement, then-Brookhaven Lab Director Sam Aronson praised his “significant contributions to atomic physics and to the development of materials characterization methods based upon the use of x-ray beams from the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS). These analytical techniques have been effectively used in many fields including materials science, chemistry, environmental and biomedical science, and education.”
In his early career, Jones joined with Chellis Chasman to do experiments with newly created germanium gamma ray detectors to study the excited states in nuclei that decay by gamma ray emission. Using the proton beam of the 3.5-meV electrostatic accelerator, they used the proton-in, neutron-out reaction to quantify excited states in elements that had not been measured before. The program also resulted in understanding many important technical details about the science of the detectors’ response. The studies also revealed the power of these devices in identifying elements by their x-ray emission spectra.
Jones continued to explore these interests at NSLS using synchrotron x-ray computed microtomography. He applied these techniques to exploring real-world problems in collaboration with scientists from many other disciplines, an approach that was pioneering at the time. He wrote hundreds of grants to raise money for projects such as better determining long-term lead exposure by measuring lead content in bones, as well as analyzing heavy-metal contamination from sediments in the Gowanus Canal.
During his career, Jones published more than 300 papers in peer-reviewed scientific literature, authored or coauthored more than 40 book chapters, and gave many technical talks at laboratories, universities, and conferences worldwide. He served as a division head and group leader at the Lab, held adjunct professor positions at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Stony Brook University, and was a Fellow of the American Physical Society since 1966.
“Keith spent significant time at NSLS and then NSLS-II even after his retirement,” recalled Huan Feng, a longtime Brookhaven Lab collaborator and mentee of Jones. “We saw him working at several beamline stations with just a bag of snacks in his hands as lunch. He was tireless in his efforts.”
Late in his career, Jones became involved in the Lab’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP), implementing projects to support science education in Long Island schools.
“He went to middle and high schools to lecture on topics related to environmental science,” Feng explained. “He was very hands-on in demonstrating laboratory science and scientific experiments. He also mentored many college students who participated in the Department of Energy’s summer education programs at the Lab.”
In one project, Long Island high school students obtained samples of oyster shells from local estuaries, observed them being analyzed on the beamline by Jones in real time via video link, then interpreted the results.
Scott Bronson, manager for OEP’s K-12 programs, said, "Keith was incredibly generous both as a scientist and a mentor. Science teachers loved his passion for discovery and his sharp wit.”
According to long-time collaborator Miriam Rafailovich of Stony Brook University, Jones “took basic science out of the lab and into the community. His work touched many from all walks of life—artists and archeologists to zoologists, as well as scientists of all ages.”
Jones greatly enjoyed passions for hiking in France, opera, and photography.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Julie Jones; daughters Caitlin, Margaret, and Megan; and grandchildren Evan, Claire, and Remy Goldschmidt, and Laura and Jillian Hanson.
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