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Notice regarding Professor William John Kossler

W&M Provost Peggy Agouris sent the following message to the campus community on Jan. 17, 2022. - Ed.

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share the news that William John Kossler (Jack), Professor of Physics, Emeritus, passed away on December 9, 2021.  Jack was a scientist, teacher, tinkerer, family man, sailor, swimmer, tennis player and good friend to many. He was quiet, thoughtful and kind, and was father of three, grandfather of two and a recent great-grandfather.

Jack Kossler was born on March 26, 1937 in Charleston, South Carolina to William John and Lois Gordon Kossler. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959 then received his doctorate in physics from Princeton University in 1964.  After serving as an assistant professor at MIT for three years, he moved to Williamsburg and joined the faculty of William & Mary where he taught physics from 1969 until his retirement in 2012.

As an experimental physicist, Professor Kossler traveled the world to work and test hypotheses at different particle accelerators.  In 1977, the whole family moved to Switzerland for a year while he worked at the Swiss Institute for Nuclear Research, enrolling his sons in local public schools. The experience instilled in his sons a love of travel and an appreciation for other cultures. He loved sailing since learning to sail as a teenager living in Belle Haven, Alexandria and attending Fishburne Military Academy. Jack took his family out on Mobjack Bay on many a summer weekend for the past half century, on a series of small sailboats of varying degrees of repair. He was quite proud of his father, who helped to adapt the emerging helicopter for Coast Guard rescue work; to this day the Coast Guard gives the Captain William J. Kossler, USCG Award every year for the greatest achievement in the practical application or operation of a vertical flight aircraft.

Jack's distinguished career was unusual, in that he straddled two subfields of physics: One concerned with the particles that make up the universe, and the other with the properties of solid matter. Most of the world around us is made up of three particles: the proton, the neutron, and the electron. In 1936, physicists were surprised by the discovery of a new member of the particle family: the muon. It is a testament to Jack's remarkable creativity and versatility that he became one of the pioneers of a hybrid branch of physics called Muon Spin Rotation. In 1998 he was named as a Fellow of the American Physical Society for “pioneering work using muon spin rotation techniques in condensed matter physics,” and in 2002 the Ninth International Conference on Muon Spin Rotation, Relaxation, and Resonance expressed its appreciation and congratulations for his untiring efforts and splendid contributions to the field of muon science.

As an educator, Professor Kossler ably taught 14 different courses, ranging from introductory physics, cosmology and advanced laboratories for undergraduates, to theoretical graduate courses. He always keenly enjoyed working as a mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students on research, and introducing them to the joys (and the challenges) of using experiments to “tease out” an understanding of nature’s mysteries. Emerging from his passion for student research, for almost two decades he directed the National Science Foundation-funded “Research Experience for Undergraduates” program at William & Mary, which provided summer research opportunities for students from many other universities, as well as many of the university’s own students. Many young scientists identify their summer research experience as the crucial spark that has led to their successful careers in science.

In retirement, he remained involved with the university's physics department, volunteered his time to help with the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Undergraduates program and served on doctoral candidates' dissertation committees. He volunteered his time to tutor high school students in Venice, Florida and in Virginia. In his spare time, he swam, played tennis and was always tinkering with several projects at a time. He had lenses custom ground and used them to build a telescope functionally identical to the one Galileo first built. This played a role in a recent OSHER lecture on the role of accidental discoveries in the history of science. Just recently he was working on a computer program designed to transform a large volume of historic data in legacy formats into a form usable with current technology. 

Professor Kossler’s wife, Margaret O'Neil Kossler, preceded him in death in 2018. He is survived by his three sons: Neil, of Fairfax County, VA; and Bill and Paul of Richmond, VA; Bill's wife Shari; grandchildren Spenser Kossler and Brittney Smoot of Loudoun County; and great-granddaughter Margaret. Lois Manes, a dear family friend of many years, was especially close with Jack these last few years.  His spirit and love of the pursuit of knowledge lives on in the memories of all who knew him. Condolences may be made online at www.bucktroutfuneralhome.net.

Sincerely,

Peggy