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In Memory of Anne Kernan


In Memoriam

Ann Kernan

UCR Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Physics

(1933 - 2020)


Dr. Anne Kernan

Distinguished Professor of Physics Emeritus Anne Kernan passed away on May 11, 2020. She joined the University of California, Riverside in 1967 and retired in 1994 after 27 years of service. She was influential in founding and building the experimental high energy physics group and served as Chair of the Physics Department, Vice Chancellor for Research, and Dean of the Graduate Division. Within the high energy physics community she was known as an innovative, kind, and generous group leader who worked at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (now the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory or LBNL), Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), CERN, and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). 

Anne was born in 1933 in Dublin where she attended University College Dublin (UCD) and earned her bachelor’s degree at the age of 19. She was the first woman to get a First Class Honours in Physics from UCD and was the only woman in her class. She continued at UCD and obtained her Ph.D. in Physics in 1957. Her thesis dissertation was on the interactions of protons and kaons.

After earning her Ph.D., Anne spent several years lecturing at UCD before taking up research positions at LBNL and SLAC, where she investigated heavy baryon resonances and electroweak kaon decays. In 1967 she joined the Department of Physics (now Physics and Astronomy) at UC Riverside as a Lecturer and was appointed an Associate Professor in 1968, becoming the first woman to gain tenure in the Department. In 1973-76 she was Physics Department Chair and in 1991-94 she served as Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate Division, the first woman to serve in these positions. 

From SLAC she moved to an experiment at the CERN Intersecting Storage Rings led by Carlo Rubbia, where the focus of her research was diffractive interactions and heavy meson physics. She went on to become one of the founding members of the UA1 experiment at CERN where the W and Z bosons were discovered in 1983. These discoveries led to the award of the 1984 Nobel Prize in physics to Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer. In recognition of her contributions, she attended the award ceremony in Stockholm at the invitation of the recipients. In 1986 Anne’s pursuit of the high energy frontier prompted her to move to the DZero experiment which was being constructed at the Tevatron collider at Fermilab. Working at DZero, her group was part of the team that went on to discover the top quark in 1995.

Anne’s honors included Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She was a Senior Visiting Scientist at CERN, was elected a Councilor of the American Physical Society, and served on many advisory committees for the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics.  

Anne was a generous benefactor to the UC Riverside Department of Physics and Astronomy. She made substantial donations to support outstanding undergraduate and graduate students via the annual Anne Kernan Graduate Award. 

After retiring, Anne moved to Danvers, Massachusetts, to live with her sister Una and her late husband, John O’Connor.  Four years ago, she and her sister moved to Panama City Beach, Florida, to live with their nephew John Hyland. Anne will be remembered as an accomplished and successful physicist with innovative vision and a kind and generous nature. She was a highly valued professor and member of the UCR community and a mentor to many. She is preceded in death by her brother Gerard Kernan and survived by her brother Denis Kernan and sister Una O’Connor.

Those who wish to honor Anne’s legacy can make a donation to the Anne Kernan Endowed Fund for Physics to support graduate students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UC Riverside.