In Memoriam: Vasant Potnis

Vasant Potnis
Vasant Potnis

Physics professor emeritus Vasant Potnis, who retired from Michigan Tech in 1996, passed away Sept. 15 in Gwalior, India.

Potnis was born in 1928 in India and earned Bsc, MSc and PhD degrees from Agra University before traveling by boat to the US in 1954.

He came to the University in 1968 from Kansas State University, one of a nuclear physics research group that included Gary Agin. Potnis’s research focused on low-energy nuclear physics, beta and gamma ray spectroscopy, and time variations of cosmic radiation, and he published numerous papers.

“Vasant was easy going and very agreeable,” remembers Agin, professor emeritus of physics, who retired from the University in 2008.

Physics professor Don Beck agreed. “Vasant’s pleasant personality contributed significantly to the department while providing a much-needed external visibility as a fellow of the American Physical Society,” he said.

David Lucas earned an MS in Physics from Michigan Tech in 1977 under Potnis’s direction and later received Tech’s first PhD in Physics in 1986. Now chair of the physics department at Northern Michigan University, Lucas called Potnis “one of the nicest people.”

“He was always encouraging and helpful. I never had to worry about asking him anything,” Lucas said.

Mechanical engineering professor emeritus Sudhakar Pandit was both a colleague and a friend. “He was an avid lover of bridge, and after retirement, we used to play quite regularly,” he says. “Vasant was a very rational individual and took great pride in physics, in thinking scientifically.”

He also loved art, said Pandit’s wife, Maneesha. “He took art classes and enjoyed doing sketches and paintings, from life and photographs,” she said. “He had a good collection of his own work, and he appreciated art in general.”

“He also exhibited in the spring art show on campus,” Agin said.

The Potnises split their time between Houghton and Gwalior, where Vasant owned a casting business. After retiring, he continued to teach classes within the physics department. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sigma Xi and Sigma Pi Sigma.

Potnis is survived by his wife, Kusum.

Posted September 26, 2012, in Tech Today.

Please feel free to leave comments on your experiences with Vasant Potnis.

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