Paul William Zitzewitz, a dedicated educator, noted textbook author, atomic physicist, and leader in the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), passed away on 30 April 2013 in Northville, Michigan, at age 70 after a long battle with cancer.

Paul William Zitzewitz

Paul was born in Chicago on 5 June 1942. While in high school, he developed a strong interest in science and had an early internship with IBM in downtown Chicago. After earning his BA in physics from Carleton College in Minnesota in 1964, Paul went to Harvard University and received his AM and PhD in physics in 1965 and 1970, respectively.

Under the guidance of Nobel laureate Norman Ramsey, Paul did his thesis work on the atomic hydrogen maser. He focused on measuring the frequency shifts arising from collisions of the hydrogen atoms with the maser walls. That work led to a significant improvement in the accuracy of our knowledge of the maser transition frequency and to the maser’s use as a fundamental time standard. Paul’s wide-ranging curiosity led him, even as a graduate student, to think about the recently discovered millisecond-period pulsars as possible time standards.

Between 1970 and 1972, Paul was a postdoc at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. He then spent a year at Corning Glass Works as a senior research scientist before being hired in 1973 as an assistant professor of physics at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. In 1978 he became an associate professor of physics, and in 1984, a professor.

In his research at Dearborn, Paul concentrated on positrons and positronium. With colleagues at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, he made precision measurements of the decay rate of ortho-positronium.

A dedicated teacher, Paul had several noteworthy achievements during his long career, including his reforms of upper-division laboratory, electronics, and advanced laboratory courses. For both in-service and pre-service elementary school teachers, he developed and taught three courses on science education. In recognition of his accomplishments in education, he was appointed a professor of science education in 2005. Paul served as chair of the department of natural sciences from 1999 to 2005 and associate dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters from 1988 to 1993. In 2009 he retired from his faculty positions.

Paul’s Physics: Principles and Problems (McGraw-Hill/Glencoe, 2005) is a widely used high school textbook that has gone through nine editions and has been translated into several foreign languages. He also authored the second edition of The Handy Physics Answer Book (Visible Ink Press, 2011), which presents physics phenomena in easy-to-understand conceptual language for the general public.

Paul was active in many physics and physics teachers’ organizations, including AAPT and the Detroit Metropolitan Area Physics Teachers. He served as president of AAPT’s Michigan section in 1996–97 and as treasurer and executive board member of the national AAPT from 2008 until his death. With the American Physical Society, Paul served on the Committee on Education and the Committee on Informing the Public, and he was chair of the Forum on Education in 1998–99. He received the distinguished service award from AAPT’s Michigan section in 2001. Among Paul’s many recognitions from the University of Michigan-Dearborn were the Distinguished Faculty Research Award in 1985 and the Distinguished Teaching Award in 2007.

Being dedicated to K–12 education, in 2010 Paul and his wife, Barbara, generously endowed AAPT’s Excellence in Pre-College Teaching Award, now the Paul W. Zitzewitz Award for Excellence in Pre-College Physics Teaching.

Throughout his life, Paul enthusiastically shared with his colleagues, students, children, and grandchildren his curiosity about the natural world; his love of scientific research, teaching, and learning; and his engaging sense of humor.