ISU Mourns the Loss of Idaho Accelerator Founding Director Dr. Frank Harmon
February 8, 2024
Dr. J. Frank Harmon, emeritus faculty and founding director of the Idaho Accelerator Center at Idaho State University, died Thursday, January 18, 2024, at his home in Pocatello, ID. His family shared that he passed away peacefully accompanied by his beloved wife Judy and four much-loved cats.
Harmon started in the Department of Physics at Idaho State University in the fall of 1969. There he taught several generations of students who became acquainted with a dedicated and passionate teacher that could distill abstract ideas into understandable and observable phenomena. His lectures were punctuated with the same dry wit that made his friends and family chuckle. He served as department chair between 1983-1997, as well as acting director of the Particle Beam Laboratory.
Throughout his time at ISU, Dr. Harmon was instrumental in bringing accelerator research and applications to ISU. In the 1990’s, Dr. Harmon approached then ISU President Dr. Richard Bowen and various state and federal agencies to fund, build and acquire the initial equipment for the IAC. Dr. Harmon, along with Dr. Doug Wells and Dr. Alan Hunt grew the center into a facility that supports research collaboration with many national laboratories, federal agencies, universities and private companies.
Harmon was the author of over 100 scientific articles and a respected authority in particle physics and particle beam accelerators. He discovered his passion for electronics and physical sciences early in life, frequently performing experiments in his parents' basement. He formalized his education by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in physics from Portland State University in 1963. He continued to study physics at University of Wyoming in Laramie, WY, obtaining a masters degree in 1965 and a Ph.D. in 1968.
Dr. Harmon advised numerous graduate students who completed their masters and doctoral projects at the IAC. He was an expert on accelerator design and applications, and convinced many groups to donate equipment to the IAC, which he would turn into usable accelerators.
Harmon designed the accelerator that laid the groundwork for the IAC’s current status as the leading US university in research and development of the cancer therapy isotope, Cu-67, which is being used to treat patients today. He was both a visionary and hard worker who changed the course of research at ISU.
“Frank was my mentor, my office partner and a friend for many years and the reason that I have had the opportunity to work at the IAC today. His vision, intelligence, tenacity, humor and heart live on among all of us who had a chance to learn from and work with him," said Jon Stoner, current director of the IAC.