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Zaffarano, Daniel Joseph

(December 16, 1917 — December 3, 2004)

Quick Facts

Daniel J. Zaffarano was a talented physicist and a well-respected administrator at Iowa State University who raised the reputation of the Physics Department.

Source: Physics Today 58, 8, 72 (2005);

Daniel Zaffarano was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 16, 1917. In 1939 he received his BS in physics from the Case Institute of Applied Science (now Case Western Reserve University). He then joined the National Carbon Company (a part of Union Carbide and Carbon Corp, now Union Carbide Corp) in Cleveland, where he became involved in the development and application of the battery used in proximity fuses during World War II.

After the war, a fuse project colleague of Dan’s, A.C.G. Mitchell, who was on leave from Indiana University, persuaded Dan to join him at Indiana for graduate work. Shortly after August 1946, he started that work and completed his MS in physics two years later. For his doctoral work, he participated in the design, construction, and use of a state-of-the-art beta-ray spectrometer. Four papers in which he described data taken with that instrument were the basis of his 1949 dissertation.

He came to Iowa State College (now University) as a Research Associate Professor in the physics department in 1949 and was appointed Professor in 1957. Dan spent 16 months in England during the mid-1950s, when he was the Office of Naval Research liaison scientist in Europe. He also supervised PhD programs and regularly taught introductory courses.

After World War II, the director of the Ames Laboratory, Frank Spedding, ordered a 70-MeV synchrotron from General Electric Company. Dan oversaw the use of that facility for over 20 years. He also helped plan and staff a 5-MW heavy-water research reactor later installed by the USAEC near the synchrotron.

He served as Chairman of the Dept. of Physics from 1961 to 1971 and was awarded the title of Distinguished Professor in the College of Sciences and Humanities in 1967. The fruits of his leadership included the recruiting of new faculty, growth in the number of graduate students, and a heightened level of sociability and interaction in the department.

He also held the title of Physics Division Chief of the Ames Laboratory of the Atomic Energy Commission (USAEC, now the US Department of Energy) from 1961 to 1971. He was appointed Vice President of Research and Dean of the Graduate College of ISU in 1971, retiring in 1987. He was highly popular and respected in those positions, and carried out his work with an enthusiasm that continued until his retirement.

Dan’s foresight and efforts resulted in the construction of a physics building addition in the mid-1960s. The enormous positive impact of that facility on the department is arguably his major legacy to Iowa State. In winter 2004, the building was designated the Daniel J. Zaffarano Physics Addition.

Clayton Swenson, distinguished professor emeritus of physics and astronomy, stated, “Dan set the framework for the current, very successful physics department."

James Bloedel, vice provost for research administration, confirmed that "Dan was a very fervent worker. He inspired many people and accomplished many things."

In 1977, Dan convinced Iowa State to host a well-attended international conference on the potential use of icebergs as a source of fresh water, a gathering that he served as General Chairman. He strongly supported the establishment of a university-wide biotechnology program, for which initial state funding was provided in 1986. That program is thriving today.

After his retirement in 1988, the university established the Zaffarano Prize, given annually to the PhD recipient with the best publication record. Questions about the publication of research results were a standard part of the exit interview Dan conducted with each student.

Dan’s efforts during his career were not limited to Iowa State. In 1974, he directed a $3 million state project to explore the environmentally friendly strip mining of Iowa coal and the use of physical methods to reduce its high sulfur content. He was active with numerous groups, serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Argonne Universities Association, the Universities Research Association for Fermilab and the Iowa Power and Light Company and Council for Research Policy and Graduate Education of the Land Grant Association.

He was Division Chief of the Iowa Coal Research Project in the ISU Energy and Mineral Research Institute and was the Iowa Representative to the Board of Mid-America Solar Energy Complex and a member of the Iowa High Technology Task Force. He served as a member of the Advisory Board of the Iowa Science Center in Des Moines.

He worked as Chairman of the Graduate Deans group in the mid-America State Universities Association and Chair of the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools, plus was a member of the Board of Directors of the Council of Graduate Schools in the U.S., serving as National Chairman from 1979-80.

In 2002, on the occasion of his 85th birthday, colleagues and alumni celebrated his Iowa State career at a festival in his honor. Dan was a gifted teacher and mentor whose office and home doors were always open. He was universally described as a patient and hard-working man with a good sense of humor.

Dan was very proud of his son and five daughters. He actively participated in community musical organizations. He was an accomplished pianist, enjoyed singing and was founder and first president of the Ames Choral Society. He and his wife, Suzy, provided leadership for the Ames Town and Gown Chamber Music Association, the Ames International Orchestra Festival Association and the Friends of Music of Iowa State’s music department. One of his last public appearances was at the department’s scholarship musicale in the fall of 2004.

Zaffarano died in Ames, Iowa, on December 3, 2004 at age 86. A memorial service was held in the Memorial Union’s Sun Room.

Selected Sources

Eric Lund, Iowa State Daily, Jan 18, 2005

Article in Physics Today by Clayton A. Swenson, John R. Clem, Iowa State University, 58, 8, 72 (2005), Published by the American Institute of Physics

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