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Pitt physicist was strong voice in nuclear debate

| Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bernard L. Cohen, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh and an outspoken proponent of nuclear energy, died on Saturday, March 17, 2012. He was 87 and lived in Oakland.

Mr. Cohen retired in 1994 but continued his research at Pitt and planned to teach in the fall until he became ill earlier this year, said James V. Maher, Pitt provost emeritus and distinguished service professor of physics.

Mr. Cohen was an engineering officer with the Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

He received a doctorate in physics from Carnegie Institute of Technology -- now Carnegie Mellon University -- in 1950. He was a group leader for cyclotron research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 1950-58, joined the physics faculty at Pitt in 1958 and served as director of Pitt's Scaife Nuclear Physics Laboratory from 1965-78.

Mr. Cohen was a major voice in the national debate on radiation exposure, insisting scientists had grossly overestimated the health impact of low-level radiation.

Maher said Mr. Cohen did groundbreaking work in nuclear physics early in his career and later set standards for detecting radon gas in homes.

He was the author of six books and more than 300 articles and appeared in more than 50 televised interviews.

"He was quite a guy. He certainly will be missed," Maher said.

Mr. Cohen is survived by his children, Donald, Judith, Fred and Ernie Cohen; 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; and his partner, Ann Ungar.

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