Marcel Bardon, a man of vision

Richard Isaacson, National Science Foundation

Marcel Bardon, Director of the Physics Division of the National Science Foundation and noted photographer, died on May 20, 1998 at age 72, after a courageous battle against lymphoma.

Marcel worked at the NSF since 1970, where he served as the Director of the Physics Division with a few departures to work on international science. His superb scientific judgment, political skill, and extraordinary vision allowed him to substantially advanced the broad frontiers of science. His support for excellent and innovative projects, often in the face of vocal opposition, has had major impact upon many fields. Some of these of particular interest to research in gravity include his creation of the unique Gravitational Physics Program at NSF, the building of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Santa Barbara, the establishment of the first generation of NSF Supercomputer Centers, and the construction of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

Because of his sensitivity to its future potential, the emerging field of gravitational physics blossomed beyond its traditional theoretical roots. Marcel began NSF support for cryogenic bar detectors when he first came to the Foundation as Program Director for Intermediate and high Energy Physics. With his encouragement as Division Director, expansion of the new Gravitational Physics Program enabled initial R&D on laser interferometers to begin, eventually demonstrating in the laboratory that a large-scale detector was possible. Marcel vigorously championed efforts within the Foundation to proceed with this new technology. His support ultimately lead to approval for the construction and operation of LIGO, the largest scientific project the NSF has undertaken.

Marcel's scientific vision extended well beyond physics, and he possessed a deep understanding of the fundamental nature of science as an international endeavor. During 1979-1981, he served as the Scientific and Technical Affairs Officer with the UNESCO Mission in Paris. From 1986-1988, he was NATO's Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Science in Brussels. He left the NSF Physics Division for an extended tour as the Director of the Division of International Programs during 1992-1997, where he reoriented the division's goals. This lead to its present emphasis on the initiation of new international collaborations and encouragement of the early participation of U.S. scientists in international research.

Marcel's many honors included the NSF Meritorious and Distinguished Service Medals, as well as two presidential awards. He was a Fellow of the AAAS and the APS.

Marcel was born and grew up in Paris. He received a diploma in comparative western literature from the Sorbonne in 1952, then he moved to the United States. Remarkably, he began his study of physics only after enrolling in graduate school at Columbia University. He received his PhD under Leon Lederman in 1961. Marcel worked at Columbia for several years, and was the Deputy Director of the Nevis Laboratory before coming to the NSF.

Marcel enjoyed telling people, with a twinkle in his eye, that physics was only his hobby...his real profession was photography. His sensitive Cibachrome landscapes often explored a deeper vision, revealing a still, timeless, or mysterious side of reality. His work was widely exhibited around the world, including two one-man shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., as well as exhibits at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York and the Troyer, Fitzpatrick, Lassman Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Marcel's judgment, leadership, wit, and enthusiasm were an inspiration to all who knew him. He made the world a better place to be in. He will be missed.

Jorge Pullin
Mon Sep 7 17:37:02 EDT 1998