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Dr. Heinrich Adolf Medicus

December 24, 1918 ~ February 26, 2017 (age 98)

Troy - Dr. Heinrich Adolf Medicus, passed away February 26, 2017. He was born on Christmas Eve 1918 in Zürich Switzerland, as the second of three children to Fritz Medicus, a professor of philosophy, and Clara Frey, an artist painter.  After attending the primary and secondary schools in Zurich, Heinrich Medicus studied physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. Having the equivalent of a Master’s degree in 1943 he became a research associate at his alma mater. In his research he obtained his first world record by discovering the then smallest known nuclear energy level transition, measuring only 2 keV and thus earned his Ph.D. ( This transition in isomeric Technetium-99 is responsible that this isotope is very useful for nuclear medicine, because it has a reasonably long life and emits plenty of gamma radiation.

In 1950 he received a fellowship to study for two years in the United States. On the invitation of Nobel Prize winner Edwin McMillan, he went to the University of California Berkley and did research in photo-meson physics. He also took the opportunity to make use of its inventory of separated isotopes to clarify certain issues which he was not able to solve in Zürich. Unfortunately, 1951 turned out to be a dark year for the University of California. This was because the regents of the university required a loyalty oath from the faculty, and some faculty refused. Many of the best faculty members of the Physics Department left for other top American universities. Therefore he decided to spend his second year at MIT. After his fellowship was nearing its end, MIT offered him an instructorship. There he helped to modernize the introductory education in Physics.

In 1955, he was offered a tenure track associate professorship at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, where he worked until his retirement. Subsequently, he built up the nuclear physics research of the Physics Department and became a full professor. He could induce the General Electric Research Lab to donate to RPI a 30 MeV Betatron on which he and his colleagues did their research. Later on, when RPI got a 100 MeV Linac he used that accelerator for his research. When the National Science Foundation started to give funding for Undergraduate Research Participation, he very soon administrated one of the biggest physics programs in the country. Several of his undergraduate participants presented papers at the regular APS meetings. In 1963 and 1970, he spent a year in the UK at Harwell, the Atomic Energy Research Establishment doing photo-nuclear research. In 1975 he spent his sabbatical at SIN, the Swiss Institute for Nuclear Research doing meson physics. He co-authored a physics textbook that received very good reviews, but did not sell well. However, the work on this textbook did bring him closer to the history of physics. Before and after his retirement he published several papers on Einstein and 20th century physics.

He was also very interested in the intellectual development of students and took a number of initiatives to this effect: He started an exchange program between RPI and his alma mater in Switzerland. To partially fund this exchange, he and his wife arranged a very popular cheese and chocolate sale at RPI. This exchange program grew over the years from one student to three or four students in both directions. Also, for several summers he made it possible through the IAESTE program for Swiss students to spend two months in American firms and for RPI students to work in Switzerland. He also funded the Medicus Exchange Program administered by The Swiss Benevolent Society of NY, to enable Swiss students to come to study in the US and American students of Swiss descent to study in Switzerland. Medicus left his first name out to somewhat disguise that he was the sponsor. Due to his strong involvement in student affairs, he became a member of the RPI Delts, the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. A few years ago, they named the “Doc Medicus Scholarship” after him.
He served in the Swiss Army from 1938 to 1950 with a total of 1000 days of service in uniform. In 1949 he became a second lieutenant and was in charge of the first artillery meteorological platoon of the Swiss Army. He was a member of the Zurich Guild of Carpenters and travelled to Switzerland to join them in the annual Sechseläuten Parade and to see family and friends in his beloved Switzerland. In his youth, he loved mountain climbing in the Swiss Alps and was a life-long member of the Swiss Alpine Club. He went skiing until he was in his seventies. For 35 years he was president of the Hudson Mohawk Swiss Society.  

Once he was asked to pop a champagne cork to break the record of the long distance flight of a champagne cork that was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Although he did not break the record he was quoted in many newspapers around the world including The International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal. A year later, in 1988, he broke the record which is still standing at 177 feet and 9 inches.

Because he felt that an engineering school like RPI was educating the future captains of industry they should know something about the finer things in life. Therefore he instituted a one-credit course on “The Science, Technology and Gastronomy of Alcoholic Beverages”, which was very popular amongst students.  Based on a petition of the students he taught this famous course for several years after his retirement. Up until his last days, he remained an outstanding connoisseur of wine and had an excellent taste for fine food.

His sense of humor was legendary and highly valued by everybody who knew him. Every year on April Fools’ Day he contributed an amazing fake story to an RPI periodical and later a Beechwood periodical.

In 1960, while visiting his mother in Zürich, he met Hildegard Julie Schmelz, one of the first female Orthodontists. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zürich and the Forsyth Dental Center in Boston, MA. They were married in 1961. They lived in Brunswick, NY. She passed away in 2008 after a long battle with cancer. This experience led him to become an even more committed philanthropist than before.

He had a warm heart for the American Indians, tribal schools and charities. In 2012, he donated his important collection of Egyptian artifacts to The Albany Institute of History and Art.  He also enjoyed visual arts and in 2014 gave his painting, Odilon Redon’s Woman with a Vase of Flowers, to the Clark Museum in Williamstown. 

Although he was not a good violinist and violist, he was a great music lover. He became an enthusiastic sponsor, board member and program committee member of The Albany Symphony Orchestra. He was thrilled to be able to attract star musicians like Joshua Bell to play with the ASO and for the ASO to receive a Grammy in 2014, in part due to his support. Along with his late wife, he also enjoyed and supported chamber music in the Capital District, including the Troy Friends of Chamber Music and Troy Chromatics Concerts. There will be future concerts in their names. 

After his move in 2009 to the Beechwood Retirement Community in Troy, NY, he became a major supporter of the Samaritan Hospital, facilitating the acquisition of the da Vinci robotic system for minimally invasive surgeries and backing the reconstruction of the emergency facilities. In 2014, he donated ten million dollars for the new pavilion of the Samaritan Hospital in Troy that will have his name. He also provided seed money to the Neural Stem Cell Institute for stem cell research. And, most recently, St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy benefitted from his generosity towards the Hildegard Medicus Cancer Center.

He is pre-deceased by his wife of 47 years. They had no children of their own, but stayed always very close to his wife’s nieces and their growing families in Germany, Switzerland and the US.

Relatives and friends may call at the Bryce Funeral Home, Inc.  276 Pawling Avenue Troy on Thursday, March 2, 2017 from 4-7 PM. 

Funeral service will be held Friday at 10 AM at the First United Presbyterian Church 1915 Fifth Avenue Troy with Rev. Alexandra Lusak and Rev. Gusti Linnea Newquist, officiating.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Albany Symphony Orchestra, 19 Clinton Avenue, Albany, NY 12207 or St. Peter's Health Partners, 315 S. Manning Blvd, Albany 12208.

Charitable donations may be made to:

Albany Symphony Orchestra
19 Clinton Avenue, Albany NY 12207

St. Peter's Health Partners Center for Philanthropy
310 South Manning Blvd., Albany NY 12208

 Service Information

March 2, 2017

4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Bryce Funeral Home, Inc.
276 Pawling Avenue
Troy, NY 12180

Funeral Service
March 3, 2017

10:00 AM
First United Presbyterian Church
1915 Fifth Avenue
Troy, NY 12180

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