Sad News: Hermann Wellenstein

Jan. 31, 2019

Dear Colleagues, 

I write to share the sad news of the passing on January 7 of Professor Emeritus Hermann Wellenstein of the department of Physics, at the age of 78. Born in Munich, Germany he was predeceased by his wife Monika ’85 and is survived by his sons Allan and Robert.

Hermann attended high school in Germany and England, received his B.Sci. from the University of London in 1966, and his PhD in physics from the University of Texas, Austin in 1971.  He came to Brandeis as an assistant professor of physics in 1973 and obtained tenure in 1978.  His research focus was on the interactions of fundamental particles at the highest possible energy. He used his expertise as an atomic molecular physicist to design, build, and test, with the other members of the Brandeis experimental high-energy physics group and some hundred physicists around the world, the muon detector for the ATLAS system of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). 

When protons traveling at close to the speed of light are smashed together inside the collider, a set of new subatomic particles are released. Herman Wellenstein and his colleagues developed software that monitors the detectors that trace the pathways taken by the new particles.  This work turned out to have applications in other spheres.  As detailed in a summer 2017 Brandeis Magazine article when Hermann's late wife, Monika '85, was suffering from lupus and the side effect dry-eye syndrome he looked for ways to make treating the condition less uncomfortable for her and other patients.  To treat it, Monika needed scleral lenses, similar to contact lenses but large enough to cover most of the sclera, the white outer region of the eyeball.  Working with Brandeis undergraduates Forrest Webler '14, Dave Matthews '18 and Joel Herman ’20, Hermann developed Sclervey, a system to survey the sclera so patients with dry-eye syndrome and other corneal diseases could be fitted for lenses more efficiently. 

His colleague Jim Bensinger said, “He was an outstanding experimental physicist who could be counted on for creative and novel solution to experimental problems.  In a field noted for large collaborative groups, his contributions stood out.  He was recognized in the field.”

Teaching – For more than a decade before his retirement every student who took the Introductory Lab in Physics had Professor Wellenstein as their instructor.  This was a challenging lab course for many students, especially for those not planning on majoring or minoring in physics.  Professor Wellenstein was seen as very available, helpful, and patient for all his students.  I even know of one recent Brandeis graduate who named their car after Professor Wellenstein in gratitude for his help in getting them through the lab! 

His family plans a memorial service later in this term.  Hermann was a very valued member of the Brandeis community over many decades and he will be greatly missed.  



Lisa M. Lynch