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Andrew Marcus Kurn ’70

November 17, 2020, in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, of prostate cancer.

Andrew wrote his thesis “Optical Fourier Transforms: Or Through the Looking Glass,” advised by Prof. Jean DeLord [physics 1950–88] and went on to Syracuse University, but left Syracuse to follow a girl to the newly opened Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. Instead of enrolling in classes, Andrew approached physics professors and offered to solve problems for them. At a time when computers filled most of an air-conditioned room and programming was done using punch cards, he understood both physics and computers. In 1981, Simon Fraser Prof. John Cochran wrote the following about Andrew:

“I have known Andrew Kurn for the period fall of 1970 to present. During the entire period in which we worked together at SFU, Andrew Kurn wrote and developed the programs which we use to compare our data with theory . . .  The problem is not only to be able to make a calculation, but to be able to rapidly change the input parameters, to repeat the calculation, and to compare the calculation with the data using a graphics display. The set of programs which Andrew Kurn developed for us have evolved into an indispensable and convenient set of tools which form the heart of our data analysis system. Without these programs we would simply not be able to make sense of our data. I am convinced there was no other person on our campus who could have set up these programs as well as Andrew Kurn. We required a programmer who had to know what was required—not what we said we wanted; and Andrew Kurn is sufficiently independent of mind that he kept hammering at us to extract the information he required to give us what was needed consistent with what was possible within the evolving constraints imposed by our computing system.”

In 1977, Andrew completed his MSc thesis, “What Light?: Or the Question of Parallel Pumping in Ferromagnets,” concerning ferromagnetic resonance and ferromagnetic anti-resonance. His sense of humor and love of the classics is evidenced by the quotes he attached to each chapter of his thesis, among which was “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; They toil not, neither do they spin.” He left SFU in 1981, but returned to complete a PhD in computing science in 1991. After holding a variety of positions at SFU and elsewhere, he joined the technical staff in physics at the SFU Surrey campus in 2008. Upon retiring in 2015, Andrew didn’t want to give up teaching, so he started tutoring students for free, offering two hours of help when they only expected one.

Andrew enjoyed many activities outside physics and computing, including music. He was partial to Bach and doo-wop, sang in the SFU Madrigal Singers and choir, and loved to listen to Irving Berlin while he commuted to work. In hospice, he overheard a fellow patient singing and immediately sang the melody back, using the solfege notation he had learned at Reed. He was a central figure in the local contra dance community, played bridge, went hiking, was an aficionado of film noir, and provided technical support for radio station CJSF. Andrew was a crusty man (with layers of crustiness) with an unusual level of self-awareness. A friend commented that Andrew wore his self-awareness on his sleeve. But once he trusted you, he revealed a warm, intelligent, kind, and caring soul. He is survived by his partner of many years, Barbara Beach.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2021

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