Phi Kappa Sigma

Frederic R. “Rick” Morgenthaler ’55

Frederic R. “Rick” Morgenthaler of Wellesley died on June 21, 2015. A longtime member of the MIT faculty and a professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer science, he was a dedicated researcher and educator in the field of electromagnetism. He was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, obeying Wilbur Wright's advice to succeed in life by “… pick[ing] out a good father and mother and begin[ning] life in Ohio.” He received BS and MS degrees from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1956. He began his research in the field of nonreciprocal microwave ferrite devices while serving in the United States Air Force. After serving for two years as a lieutenant, he returned to MIT, where he received a PhD in 1960 and joined the MIT faculty in the same year. Morgenthaler led the Microwave and Quantum Magnetics Group in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE), where his research focused on the theory underpinning the propagation of electromagnetic waves and its numerous practical applications. He was professor of electrical engineering for 37 years. His research and teaching centered on the fields of microwave magnetics and the electrodynamics of waves and media. A dedicated educator, Morgenthaler worked to equip MIT electrical engineering students with a deeper understanding of electromagnetism. He taught undergraduate electrical-engineering core-curriculum subjects in electromagnetic field theory, circuit theory, and semiconductor electronics. He also served as graduate officer for EECS from 1993 to 1996. He authored over 100 scientific papers, a textbook (The Power and Beauty of Electromagnetic Fields, published by Wiley), and was granted a dozen patents. In the introduction to this textbook, Morgenthaler wrote eloquently on the topic that was the focus of his research for nearly four decades at MIT. He described the bronze plaque in MIT’s Eastman Laboratories (Building 6), inscribed with the mathematical symbols that represent Maxwell’s Equations. These simple equations, which predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves propagating at the speed of light, he explained, have made possible much of the technology we depend on today, from radio, to X-rays, to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to the internet. “No one can doubt the utility—the power—of electromagnetic theory,” Morgenthaler wrote. He was a fellow of the IEEE and a member of numerous honorary professional societies. He held the Cecil H. Green Professorship for 1984-1986. After his retirement in 1996, he continued to teach as a senior lecturer until 2000. “Professor Morgenthaler greatly enriched MIT through his research and his dedication to educating several generations of MIT electrical engineers,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, head of EECS and the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor in Electrical Engineering. “His colleagues at MIT and the numerous students that he mentored throughout his career will miss him greatly.” Rick was an avid reader, traveler, and classical music aficionado.