Department of Physics

In Memoriam: Sam Marshall

Sam Marshall

Sam Marshall

Dr. Marshall was a Professor of Physics at Michigan Tech from 1981 to 1995. He passed away in October 2008 in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Marshall had a long and distinguished career in experimental physics, resulting in a Michigan Tech Research Award and more than 60 publications. His research interests spanned many areas of solid state physics, including magnetic defects, electron spin resonance, nuclear magnetic resonance, crystal field theory, and hyperfine interaction.

Marshall came to Tech in 1981 as a full professor, after working at Argonne National Lab in suburban Chicago for about 18 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, a master’s from the University of Michigan, and a PhD from Catholic University in Washington, DC. He worked as a physicst for the National Bureau of Standards, the U. S. Naval Ordnance Lab, and the IIT Research Institute. Marshall was born in Chicago. He is listed in American Men and Women of Science and Who’s Who in Science. He retired in 1995 and was granted emeritus status in 1996.

Please feel free to leave comments on your experiences with Sam Marshall.

Memorials from our Alumni, Students & Friends


Sam served as a “seed” for the development of the Physics department’s experimental Ph.D. research program. He had a number of hurdles to overcome in getting his laboratory (the first one in the new program) up and functioning. He found ways—several of them humorous—around these hurdles. One episode involved having to tighten up the bolts on the cargo portion of the truck he had rented to transport some of his lab equipment from Chicago to MTU, during the trip. Fortunately, he was travelling with our machinist.

I remember his submitting a paper to a journal and getting it back to referee! He wrote the editor that it was an excellent paper, but that he was biased, as he was its author. Don Yerg, Jim Waber, he and I went to lunch together quite often. On occasion, a younger colleague attended—who named us the “Golden Girls”. I’m not admitting to any grey hair at that time, though!

Sam had good judgement and was good at spotting people who were “faking it”. He trained several Ph.D. students at MTU, whose theses are listed on our departmental site. He treated them fairly and thoughtfully.

I think he would be proud of what the MTU Physics Department has become.

Sincerely, Don Beck, Professor MTU Physics


The last time I visited him in Chicago (2007 or so) he wasn’t doing very well. This was after his second quadrupole bypass surgery. He refused to go for a walk and didn’t want to sit in the evening in his open garage, drink wine with me and look at beautiful Chicago women. This used to be his favorite evening activity each time I would show up.

However, he felt good enough to take me for a ride in his car to the nearest Dunkin-Donuts where I had coffee (black) and he had few of the greasiest donuts out there. On the way back he insisting on stopping at IHOP and eating a helping of fries. All of this was a great secret because Janet wouldn’t let him eat that stuff. He would just tell me that he wants to die happy.

Jacek Borysow, MTU Physics


Sam had a wonderfully strange sense of humor and an ability to tell you just about anything with a straight face, no matter how outrageous. One time I went to a dinner get-together and saw that Sam was there without his wife, Janet. This was unusual and so I asked him about it. He leaned toward me, looked me straight in the eyes and with a most serious tone said “Janet left me.” He continued to look at me with a most serious look for several seconds while I squirmed with discomfort at my faux pas. Then he broke a small smile, sat back, and completed his sentence “…to go to Chicago for the weekend.” He knew he had gotten me once again.

Bryan Suits, MTU Physics Dept


Sam gave me a chance as a grad student and started me on the path to becoming a true experimentalist. He provided me with the skills that enabled me to achieve what I have accomplished today. He also had a humor that was his own. I will never forget his pet squirrels. He was so proud of them, in a weird sort of way. If he had ever shown them to you, you would understand what I mean.

Mark Parent, Naval Research Laboratory, Wash D.C.


Sam had his office down the hall from mine. It was always fun to stop by and talk to him about everything, latest news, science, politics, culture. He was widely read and had a wicked sense of humor. Sam would take on everything, especially what he perceived as nonsense, trivialities, and stupidities emanating from administrative authorities. He made sure that later, when I became dean, I would not lose sight of what’s essential in a university.

Max Seel, MTU Physics, Prvost and VP for Academic Affairs (interim)


As a fresh MTU graduate student from China back in 80’s, I used to respectfully address him as “Professor Marshall”. Soon, I was fortunate to have him as my advisor and he insisted that I called him Sam. At first, he gave an impression of very serious and straight physics professor and did not smile much, but deep down, as I spent more and more time with him, he was a very kind and caring advisor and perfect gentlemen.

So many times when we had to stay late in the lab because of an unexpected glitch in an experiment, we would be pleasantly surprised by Uncle Sam’s personal delivery of wonderful, greasy supreme pan pizza from Pizza Hut. That’s why Pizza Hut is still my favorite pizza restaurant till today. Sam used to take us to Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago for some experiment. Almost every time, he would treat us at his favorite Chinese restaurant, “Red Cotton”, in the Old Chinatown. His favorite one was always “hot and sour soup” and we would share a big bowl of soup each time. He claimed that the soup at that Chinese restaurant was so unique that one could find nowhere else.

After graduating from Michigan Tech, I was fortunate to work with him again at Argonne National Laboratory as the postdoctoral fellow. He was spending his Sabbatical leave from MTU. He was very proud to see that my experimental physics training at his lab was making an important contribution to the success of our Photosynthesis projects at Argonne. During that time, my wife and I visited his Chicago home. Sam proudly demonstrated his puppy dog talent playing as “a peace maker” between Janet and him (by “faking an argument” with Janet in front of his dog). To this day, we still vividly remember that scene and all that seemed to be not very long ago.

Sam used to walk daily as part of Doctor’s exercise order. He had this special type of hat to wear because of cold Houghton weather and we called it KGB hat. He loved that name and every time he would tell his walking buddies that he had to get his KGB hat before going out with them. He said that made him feel like a KGB agent in the movies. He was always proud of his energy and keen sense of his surroundings. He always reminded me that one is really too old when he stops noticing beautiful women around him. Sam was always young at heart.

Above all, Sam was a true experimental physicist. As his graduate student, I spent long hours working with him in his EPR laboratory to assemble different waveguide configurations and to design various experiment. The experimental physics skills I learned through that hands-on experience working with him on various physics instruments benefit me throughout my career. Even today, I still see myself approaching the problem solving the way I was trained in his lab. Sam was a kind and intelligent teacher, a dear friend, and a humble human being. He will forever live in our hearts and truly be missed by many.

Yuenian Zhang, Clinical Radiation Oncology Physicist, Indianapolis, IN


I remember Sam not only as a terrific scientific mentor who really helped me develop professionally during the early stages of my career, but also as a warm father figure who made me feel welcome as a recently immigrant from China still adjusting to a new environment.

Sam’s compassion extended well beyond the way he treated his students. One morning in the late 1980′s, we were driving to the Argonne National Laboratory when a puppy jumped out into the road in front of us on the high way 141 near the Crystal Falls. Fortunately, when we hopped out and checked under the car, we found the puppy uninjured, but it was apparently quite traumatized from the near accident. Even though we were in a rush, Sam took the time to calm the puppy, caressing it tenderly in his arms, before we resumed our trip.

I am forever indebted to Sam for giving me the opportunity to work in his lab. I am a better person for having known him, and I am truly saddened to learn of his passing.

Cheng Yu, Prof. Radiation Oncology, Keck School of Medicine, USC

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