Dr. John (Jack) H. Marburger III of Port Jefferson died July 28 at his home at the age of 70 after a four-year battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
As President George W. Bush’s Science Adviser, the post created in the 1960s by John F. Kennedy, Marburger held that position longer than any of his predecessors, though Long Islanders will remember him more for his prior leadership as president of Stony Brook University and subsequently as director of Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Marburger, born in Staten Island on Feb. 8, 1941, was a physicist before he became an administrator, earning a degree in physics from Princeton (1962) and applied physics from Stanford (1967).
Marburger became BNL director in March, 1998, at a time when the lab was under much criticism for the 1997 tritium leak from its High Flux Beam Reactor.
"It was largely due to him [Marburger] that the public’s attitude of the lab was turned around," said Peter Bond, senior advisor to present Lab Director Sam Aronson. Bond also served as interim director of the lab from 1997 until Marburger’s arrival.
"He was a master at being a good listener for both scientists and the public, at a time when the community was very upset," Bond added.
BNL Director Aronson agreed with Bond.
"Throughout his [Marburger] long and fascinating career, his finest qualities included his ability to listen and to find common ground among people with very different points of view," said Aronson.
Before his years at BNL, Marburger was president of Stony Book University, a post he took in 1980, at the age of 39. During his 14 years as president, Federally sponsored scientific research there surpassed that of all Northeastern public universities.
Marburger stepped down as president in 1994 to pursue research in optical science at Stony Brook.
As science advisor to President Bush, heading the Office of Science and Technology Policy, it was the perception of some that Marburger did not actively confront what many saw as the administration’s perspective of putting science low on the agenda.
“I spent a year in Washington," said Bond, who had worked for the Office of Science and Technology Policy before Marburger’s tenure. "That was an office of science, but it was also one of politics. It was an extremely difficult position to be in.”
Marburger once commented that government’s influence on science was overestimated and that science was too multi-faceted to be hemmed in by policy.
Marburger could mix policy and science, as he did in a 2006 Goddard Memorial Symposium speech in which he said the question was “whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not.”
He returned to Stony Brook as a physics professor in 2009; in 2010 he took on the position of Vice President of Research. On July 1, Marburger stepped down for health reasons.
Next month Cambridge University Press will publish Marburger’s book, Constructing Reality: Quantum Theory and Particle Physics.
Marburger is survived by his wife Carol, sons John and Alexander and their families. An autumn memorial is planned at Stony Brook University.