Bob Park, a Professor Emeritus who was an author and outspoken advocate for science and rational thought, died on April 29, 2020. He was 89.
Park was born in Kansas City, Missouri and intended to pursue a career in law. When the Korean War intervened, his service as an electronics officer in the Air Force ignited a passion for physics. He enrolled in the University of Texas in 1956 and earned a BS in Physics in 1958 with High Honors. He stayed in Austin for a master’s degree and then accepted an Edgar Lewis Marston Fellowship at Brown University. He earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1964.
He worked during the next decade for Sandia Laboratories before joining UMD in 1974. He served as Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1978-1982. In 1983, he opened a Washington office for the American Physical Society, and divided his time between the University and the APS until 2003. He retired in 2008, but continued writing an online column, What’s New, in which he deplored fallacies, particularly those allowed to affect public policy.
He wrote two books, Voodoo Science: the Road from Foolishness to Fraud and Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science and features in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. Park received the 1998 Joseph A. Burton Award of the American Physical Society for informing the public about physics and the 2008 Philip J. Klass Award of the National Capital Area Skeptics for promoting critical thinking. He often criticized the manned space program as risky and expensive, and repeatedly warned of overpopulation of this planet.
He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the American Vacuum Society.
Park was nearing age 70 when, while jogging on a calm Sunday, he was nearly crushed when an oak tree toppled. As described in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
A pair of priests who happened upon him lying unconscious under the tree administered last rites, he later found out.
….a strange coincidence….took place the day he returned to the scene of his accident a year later.
"The story gets even more unbelievable," he said. He went to the exact place where he was struck, he said, and as he passed the broken-off trunk of the tree that nearly killed him, he passed two elderly men walking. "You know that tree fell on a guy last year," one of them said.
When Park said he was that man, one of the two began to tear up. It turned out they were the priests who found Park pinned under the tree and gave him last rites. They decided to throw him a champagne party to celebrate his survival.
Park is survived by his wife Gerry and sons Robert Jr. and Daniel. The family asks that any memorial donations be directed to the Department of Physics: https://giving.umd.edu/giving/fund.php?name=physics-department-operating-fund
The archive of Park's What's New blog can be found here: https://web.archive.org/web/20140124195058/http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/archives.html
Robert Lee Park, 1931-2020
Dan Margulies, Bob Anderson and Bob Park.
Bob Park explains an experiment in 2000.
Bob Park at Maryland Day 2002.