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Prof. Lawrence Germain [physics 1949–54]

When Prof. Lawrence Germain taught at Reed, he spent his summers working with pioneering nuclear scientist and Nobel Prizewinner Ernest Orlando Lawrence at UC Berkeley. In the fall of 1952, this research group moved to Livermore, California, to form what is now the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). At LLNL, Germain designed fission weapons and took an active role in their testing in the Pacific Proving Grounds and later at the Nevada Test Site, when underground testing was required by the Limited Test Ban Treaty. In 1971, he supported the U.S. delegation in Geneva, Switzerland, engaging in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). He also led the lab’s efforts to contain all nuclear radiation underground, and in 1975 became the division leader of the Earth Sciences Division.

Germain was born in Fresno, California, to educators John and Frances Germain, and attended local schools in Stockton. He earned a doctorate in physics at the UC Berkeley, with a thesis related to cosmic ray mesotrons. In 1949, he moved to Portland with his new wife, Sally Layport, and joined the Reed faculty. In 1953, he joined the LLNL group full time, moving to Danville, California, with his wife and son, Keith. While in Danville he became the senior warden at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church and assumed responsibility for church finances, selecting rectors, and teaching the high school Sunday school class.

In 1975, Germain married his “soulmate,” Barbara Killian, who was originally from San Diego, California, and also worked at the lab. The following year, the couple moved to New Mexico, transferring to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where Germain’s extensive knowledge and experience were leveraged in supporting a broad range of issues ranging from nuclear testing to geothermal energy and special projects for the laboratory director. Upon retiring in 1985, he continued for several years as a consultant for the Defense Nuclear Agency.

In 1984, Germain published A Diary of the Falklands Conflict, which was included in the book Military Lessons of the Falkland Islands War: Views from the United States. Germain’s involvement in this project was driven by his lifelong interest in history. He was also known for his many mountain adventures, and was an avid backpacker, an activity he took up at the recommendation of his doctor as a therapy for polio, which he had contracted in high school. Strongly attracted to geology, geography, and maps, he was considered a state-of-the-art human GPS system by his family. He and Barbara became avid art collectors and loved to visit exotic locations. In 2000, Germain experienced a serious stroke that caused paralysis on the right side of his body and outgoing aphasia. With his can-do approach and Barbara’s loving care, he embraced life, continuing to travel and enjoy his friends, family, and varied interests. Throughout all of his challenges, he retained the sharp wit and sense of humor for which he was famous.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Germain Killian; former wife, Sally Germain Goldner’ son, Keith Germain; and daughter, Nancy Germain.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2017

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