University of Houston professor emeritus James R. Benbrook, who served two successful terms as chair of the physics department, died following a long illness at the age of 75.
During his 40-year career, he taught courses at all levels with equal enthusiasm and attention. His classes were generally filled to room capacity, and many of the graduate students he mentored went on to have distinguished careers in their chosen fields. His students liked his teaching style, calling him “creative, hard-working, enthusiastic, good-natured and, above all, an excellent teacher.”
In recognition of his outstanding teaching, Benbrook won the UH Provost’s Core Teaching Excellence Award in 2008, shortly before his retirement. He taught Modern Electronics for Physicists, a course he created and described as a place where “students learn which end of the soldering iron to hold.” He assisted in consolidating the three-semester introductory physics sequence into two-semesters, allowing students to graduate in a timelier manner.
Benbrook also served on numerous committees and boards and was always eager to work for the good of the physics department in whatever way he could, including as the Undergraduate Studies Committee Chair for a number of years. And as a committed Cougar fan, he served as faculty representative to the NCAA and as chair of the UH Athletic Advisory Board.
A member of the UH Space Physics Group, he conducted extensive research that spanned a wide variety of topics. Using high-altitude balloon or rocket flights, he studied cosmic ray intensity and distribution, both above and below ground, investigated electric fields at high altitude due to thunderstorms and the electromagnetic radiation spectrum of lightning at high altitudes. He launched rockets and balloons in Canada, France, Sweden and Antarctica.
He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin and received his M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Washington before joining UH’s physics department in 1970.
He was happiest outdoors and maintained his love of sports throughout his life. He coached his son’s Little League teams, was an avid tennis player and enjoyed following football. Per his request, he was cremated and there will be no service. Those wishing to make contribution in his honor may do so to the Alzheimer’s Association, Parkinson’s Society, the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
About the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
The UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, with 193 ranked faculty and nearly 6,000 students, offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, computational sciences and mathematics. Faculty members in the departments of biology and biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, earth and atmospheric sciences, mathematics and physics conduct internationally recognized research in collaboration with industry, Texas Medical Center institutions, NASA and others worldwide.