The Department of Physics and Astronomy is sad to announce the passing of Professor Emeritus Harvey Leff on Dec. 30 in Portland Oregon. He was 86.
Leff had a long career in physics, working at institutions as varied as Case Western Reserve University, Chicago State University, and Cal Poly Pomona, where he was a professor from 1983 to 2001, department chair from 1983 to 1995, and professor emeritus from 2001 on. A passionate educator, he served as president of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) in 2007 and was made an AAPT fellow in 2014. He was also widely respected for his deep insights into thermodynamics and was made a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in 2017.
Leff was beloved by students and colleagues for his personability as much as he was respected for his leadership skills and physics insights. His former student Walter Christensen remained in contact with Leff decades after graduating.
“To know Harvey Leff was to experience warm humor, with the duality that his humor could be dry as dry ice,” said Christenson, “except always he had his infamous smile and quiet laughter that made people feel more human and welcome.”
A Renaissance man, Leff also played drums in the country rock band The Outlaws of Physics, a group of musically inclined CPP physics faculty and staff. The Outlaws generously endowed a scholarship for the Department of Physics and Astronomy, recognizing academic excellence in a graduating senior nominated by the faculty each year.
After retiring from Cal Poly Pomona, Leff and his wife Ellen relocated to Portland, Oregon, where he was appointed a visiting scholar at Reed College. Current Department Chair Alex Small once had the delightful surprise of going to Reed to give a scientific talk and encountering Leff in the audience.
“It was nice to see a familiar face from Pomona and have an insightful discussion of science with him at dinner afterwards” said Small.
Leff is survived by his wife Ellen, children Lisa (Clive), Robyn, Jordan (Juliet), and Jeremy, and grandchildren Addie and Vivien.