Skip to content
For WHOI personnel, vendors, and visitors: COVID-19 Guidelines

Arnold B. Arons

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death February 28, 2001, of Honorary Trustee and Honorary Member of the Corporation Arnold Boris Arons of a heart attack at his home in Seattle. He was 84.

Born on November 23, 1916, Arnold B. Arons graduated from the Stevens Institute of Technology with a M.E. degree in physical chemistry in 1937 and a M.S. degree in physical chemistry in 1940. He also attended Harvard University, receiving a Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1943. Arons had been affiliated with the University of Washington since 1968, serving as Professor of Physics from 1968 to 1982 and since 1982 as Professor of Physics Emeritus.

Arnold Arons had a long affiliation with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, beginning in 1942 while a graduate student of E. Bright Wilson, Jr. at Harvard. In June 1943 he joined the WHOI staff on a full-time basis, employed as a member of the staff of the Underwater Explosives Research Laboratory, known around WHOI as the “Navy 7” or C-7 group, conducting explosives research for the U.S. war effort. He served as a research group leader under Robert Cole, leading the group that made shock wave measurements on the first atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946.

He left WHOI in 1946 to become Assistant Professor of Physics at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, returning each summer with students to conduct research as a non-resident member of the WHOI staff. He continued conducting research on aspects of explosion phenomena and shock wave propagation until 1952, when he was named Professor of Physics at Amherst College. Friendships with Henry Stommel and Alfred Woodcock had turned his research attention from the reflection of acoustic pulses to physical oceanography and meteorology, a direction supported by Columbus Iselin. Arons soon became well known for his studies of abyssal oceanic circulation and cloud physics with Stommel and Woodcock. Arons continued to work at WHOI as a non-resident staff member until 1968, when he was named Professor of Physics at the University of Washington.

Although his summer research activities at WHOI ended in 1968, Arons’ relationship with WHOI continued through his service as a Trustee and Corporator until his death. He served as a Member of the Corporation from 1963 to 1987 and as an Honorary Member of the Corporation since 1987. He also served as a Trustee from 1964 to 1968, 1975 to 1979 and 1980 to 1988. He was elected an Honorary Trustee in 1988. As a Trustee of WHOI, he was instrumental in establishing the joint MIT-WHOI graduate program in oceanography in 1968. Arnold Arons also served on numerous committees, including the Trustees’ Education Committee, Executive Committee, Nominating Committee, Ad hoc Committee for Joint Education Programs and most recently the Trustees’ Ad hoc Education Committee in 1990. He was also a long-time Associate, and often attended Institution events.

Dr. Arons was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was a member of the American Geophysical Union, National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), which he served as President in 1967. He was the 1972 recipient of AAPT’s Oersted Medal, given in recognition of his notable contributions to the teaching of physics. While at Amherst College he was widely know as a skilled teacher and was featured in a cover story on education in Time magazine. “The content of the course for which he was cited and the instructional philosophy on which it was based are exemplified in his text, “Development of Concepts of Physics,” noted the AAPT Oersted Medal citation. “The very careful attention of a logical sequencing of ideas, the deep concern for a careful development of concepts in the minds of students, and the steady attention to the cultural basis of Western science so evident in that book have been his hallmarks.” Arons also wrote other texts, including “A Guide to Introductory Physics Teaching,” which reflected his interest in training teachers and non-science majors.

In 1968 Arnold Arons was honored by the Stevens Institute of Technology with its Honor Medal in 1968 and the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering in 1982. He received the University of Washington’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1973 and the Distinguished Service Award of the Washington Science Teachers Association in 1976. In 1990 the Society for College Science Teachers presented Arons with its National Teacher Exemplar Award. He also held patents for the piezoelectric gauge for explosion pressure measurement, and for experimental and theoretical work on phase distortion of acoustic pulses reflected from the seabed.

Arnold Arons is survived by his wife, Jean M. (Rendall) Arons, of Seattle, WA; two daughters, Marion Grillon of North Adams, MA, and Janet Haskell of Elmira, NY; two sons, Kenneth Arons of Brighton, CO, and Paul Arons of Bellevue, WA; and five grandchildren, Hoppi Grillon, Joy Grillon, Jupiter Bridge, Barbie Pruitt and Michael Arons.

Donations may be made in Arnold Arons memory to The Henry Stommel Visiting Scholars Program, c/o Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Fenno House, MS#40, Woods Hole, MA 02543.