Acclaimed U physicist, professor dies

Paul Sanders

During his life University physicist Edward P. Ney’s accomplishments ranged from assisting in the development of the first atomic bomb to inspiring students to question authority.
Ney died of heart failure Tuesday at age 75 in his Minneapolis home.
Ney’s death is “a great and monumental loss,” said University astronomy professor Bob Gehrz, who considers Ney a mentor after studying under him at the University in 1968. “He was one of the top people we’ve had in the history of the University.”
As an astrophysicist and University professor, Ney “influenced several generations of students to think of physics in a very deep and fundamental way,” Gehrz said.
Ney received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University in 1963. He was also elected to the prestigious National Academy of Science in 1971 for his cosmic ray research. Ney was one of the founders of infrared astronomy, which allows observers to view extremely faint objects in space that emit very little heat.
Ney earned his bachelor of science degree in physics from the University in 1942. He returned to the University in 1947 as an assistant professor in physics.
During World War II, Ney participated in the Manhattan Project, the program that led to development of the world’s first atomic bomb.
Homer Mantis, professor emeritus in physics, collaborated with Ney in high-altitude atmospheric research when Ney returned to the University in 1947. “He was certainly one of the most unique professors,” Mantis said. “His lectures were entertaining and well-founded.”
Ney had a reputation for outrageous behavior at the University, Gehrz said, adding that when one student fell asleep in Ney’s class, the professor squirted him with a syringe full of water.
But Ney also taught students the necessity of questioning the establishment, Gehrz said. “He thought it was important that government and society do the right thing.
“In the University, he wanted to make sure the administration protected the interests of the students and staff and faculty who he regarded as the heart of the University.”
Ney’s research once took him to the Sahara Desert, where his life was endangered. While Ney was scouting sites to view a solar eclipse, the French military truck in which he was traveling overturned. Ney suffered seven broken ribs, a broken collarbone and a broken leg.
As a scientist Ney was instrumental in helping the University achieve it’s current status as a world leader in infrared astronomy, Gehrz said.
In 1968 Ney initiated the construction of the University’s first infrared telescope, which is being used to this day, Gehrz said. “It’s at the forefront of infrared astronomy.”
Ney is survived by his wife, June; daughter Judy Ney; and sons John, Arthur and William.
A memorial service will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday at the University’s Campus Club.