Photo
Share
Kurt Efraim Nielsen

Kurt Efraim Nielsen

April 29th, 1937 - May 12th, 2020

Biography


Kurt E. Nielsen passed away on May 12, 2020, due to heart failure and illness.  Kurt was born the eldest son of immigrants from Denmark and Sweden, Ejnar and Karin Nielsen, on April 29, 1937.  Kurt’s younger brother Ken was born 3 years later. 


They grew up on a farm in Long Island, New York.  The main product of the farm was Kosher chickens, blessed by the local Rabi, for the New York City market.  Kurt would get up at 5 AM every day, a lifelong habit, to help with the crops and animals.  By age 7 Kurt had his first driver’s license, so he could drive the family tractor.


While on a family vacation trip to upstate New York to scout properties for Ejnar Nielsen’s dream of a cattle ranch, Kurt’s father realized he was sick.  Ejnar was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and died soon after at the age of 44.  Kurt was just 16 and his brother Ken was 13.  The decision was made to sell the family farm.  Kurt then needed to choose a new career. A fellow trumpeter at the Salvation Army recommended that Kurt to go into math or engineering.  Kurt earned a scholarship and went to New York State Teachers College (now State University of New York) in Albany, New York. While there, in 1955, he met and “fell in love at first sight” with Ruth.  “From the moment we met, I knew you were the one I would love forever.” 


Ruth worked as an Executive Secretary / Administrative Assistant for the New York State Department of Health.  Dates frequently consisted of long walks in the local Washington Park in Albany.  On May 1959, Kurt graduated with a BS in Physics and a teaching certificate.  Kurt and Ruth were married on September 5, 1959.   In August 1960 Kurt graduated with a MS in Physics.


In 1961 Kurt and Ruth moved to Madison, Wisconsin.  There Ruth worked at UW for Psychologist Carl Rogers and Chair of Agricultural Economics Harlo Halverson, while Kurt went back to school.  While at UW, Kurt worked with his Professor Raymond (Ray) Herb on accelerators and trying to find quarks for his Graduate Thesis. While not successful at the time, members of the group Kurt worked with went on to succeed in finding Quarks.  While in Wisconsin, Kurt and Ruth also had two children, a son David in 1966, and a daughter Cheryl in 1968.  Kurt received a Ph.D. in Experimental Nuclear and Plasma Physics, from the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, in 1969. 


Upon graduation, Kurt chose to move his family to California’s San Francisco Bay Area for a job as a Physicist in the defense industry at Physics International.  This was the start of Kurt’s long and respected career in Pulsed Power.  For the next 28 years Kurt worked at Physics International (PI) and Pulse Sciences Inc. (PSI), in California.  At PI and PSI Kurt worked on the design of Pulsed Power equipment, including state-of-the-art EMP and laser drivers, particle beam fusion programs, experimental R&D, and experimental diagnostics.  Eventually Kurt became a Program Manager and Technical Director.


In the 1980’s and 1990’s Kurt traveled frequently in the US and Europe on business, going to Germany, France, Scotland, England, and Switzerland.  While in Europe, he also went to Denmark and Sweden to visit the towns and the relatives of his parents.  Travel included trips to the Harry Diamond Laboratory in Maryland and the Kernforschungszentrum, in Karlsruhe, Germany.


Kurt Nielsen started work at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in December of 1997 as a Pulsed Power engineer in the Physics Division. In this role, he brought his vast experience in pulsed power to the LANL technical community, and was instrumental in the design of many high-voltage systems on Atlas, which at the time, was one of the premier pulsed power machines intended to be used for weapons research.


After the assembly and commissioning of the Atlas machine in April of 2000, Kurt looked for other challenges and went to work in the Dynamic Experimentation (DX) Division working at the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility.  The DARHT facility uses two independent linear induction accelerators (LIAs) to produce the world’s most intense X-rays for radiographic research.  The first axis provides a single pulse, and the second axis, a much more powerful and complex accelerator, provides four pulses. In DX, Kurt led the pulsed power team responsible for the hardware systems driving the second-axis LIA. His pulsed power expertise played an instrumental role in the design, assembly and operation of the second axis of DARHT.


“Kurt led the successful electrical redesign of the DARHT Axis 2 long-pulse induction cells. This included addressing the multiple problems in the cell oil and vacuum regions as well as in the cell drivers.  Kurt directed a design team that consisted of High Voltage Pulsed Power experts from the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, as well as experts from outside companies including, L3 Pulse Sciences Division (formerly Physics International), Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and Mission Research Corporation (MRC).”**  “The world is definitely a much safer place because of the technologies and capabilities he helped realize. DARHT is by far no exception, which continues to be the envy of the international community.” *


Kurt’s long career at LANL was a continuation of his already extensive pulsed power career, a career in which he was one of the most well-known, and well-liked members of the global Pulsed Power community.  Kurt was first a Team Leader, and later worked as Engineer 5 and Scientist 5 at LANL.  Kurt made many friends both at work and in the community.  He was greatly respected by his colleagues at PI, PSI, and LANL.  “He gained a lot of respect through his work ethic and knowledge, and for his unselfish nature.  Kurt was always cheerful and more than willing to do what he could to help the project figure out how to fix the problems and move forward.  Kurt was tenacious when addressing problems, but at the same time had an easy-going style which brought out the best in his colleagues. He was completely at home in the lab running pulsed power experiments, in the control room checking the high voltage performance of the accelerator, or in his office analyzing data. Kurt was also very generous to give credit to others and never spotlighted himself. He was a mentor to both young and old alike.” *  Kurt published and peer reviewed for American Physical Society and IEEE.


Kurt traveled frequently between his home in California and an apartment in New Mexico.  Kurt loved travel, nature, and hiking.  Both his home in California, and his apartment in New Mexico, were close to large parks and long hiking trails.  He was a great Dad, who loved doing things with his family.  Over the years, Kurt took his family camping at many State and National Parks.  Frequent destinations included Yosemite, Death Valley, the California Coast, and the Redwood Forests.  In each park, the first stop would be the visitor center and museum to learn about the local geology, plants, and animals.  Visits to museums in San Francisco such as the Exploratorium, the California Academy of Sciences, or the Asian Art Museum, were frequent ways of celebrating a birthday or holiday.


A highlight for our family was a business trip to Washington DC in the Summer of 1985.  We took a motorhome from California, through the southern states, up to Washington DC.  There we stayed for two weeks seeing the sites and museums while Kurt was at work.  Then we traveled back to California through the northern states.  Along the way we visited many family members and friends, who by then were scattered throughout the USA. 


Kurt loved his work, and he loved being with his friends and colleagues.  There is an old saying, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”  Kurt found that job in his work as a Pulsed Power Physicist.  Kurt was still a full-time employee, having worked at LANL for 22 years, and in Pulsed Power for 50 years, when he passed away. 


Kurt was an active member of Crossroads Bible Church for many years. He attended services and a bi-weekly home Bible study with friends.  We are comforted by knowing that he is now at home with God.


Kurt and Ruth were married for 60 years in September 2019. Kurt is survived by his wife Ruth, his children David and Cheryl, his brother Ken, 5 nephews, 5 nieces, and many grandnieces and grandnephews. He was interred at Guaje Pines Cemetery, Los Alamos, NM on Saturday, June 6, 2020 at 2:00pm. A Remembrance Service will be held at a later date.


In lieu of flowers we would like donations to the following groups: Prostate Cancer Foundation, https://www.pcf.org/, American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, https://www.stjude.org/, and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, https://www.michaeljfox.org/.


* Many thanks to those who contributed to Kurt’s Obituary, including Ken Nielsen, Ian Smith, Ray Scarpetti, Ryan Vliestra, Will Waldron, Chris Rose, Trent McCuistian, Carl Ekdahl, Juan Barraza, and Dawn Chavez.

Read More 

Family

About

Name Kurt Efraim Nielsen
Date of Birth April 29th, 1937
Date of Death May 12th, 2020
Cemetery

Memorial

Cemetery
Funeral Home Rivera Family Funeral Home - Los Alamos
Address 1627 A Central Avenue
Los Alamos NM 87544
United States

Error

photo
Characters: 6000

Sign in to Keeper:

photo
Characters: 6000

Send as Guest:

Tributes



Flag Post

published a comment .

Read More 

Flag Post

Cheryl Nielsen published a tribute .

Kurt and Ruth at 50th Wedding Anniversary 2009

Read More 

 1 


Flag Post
J

Julie Banaszek Msn,rn published a comment .

As a Los Alamos Visiting Nurse I saw Kurt weekly for three years. I admired him and enjoyed our many conversations during my visits. It was an honor and a pleasure to know him. I will miss him.

Read More 

photo
Characters: 6000
photo
Characters: 6000
Flag Post
T

Tom Butler published a tribute .

Cheryl, this Is Lucy on Tom’s phone. We were honored to be with you yesterday. The service honored your Dad and his precious Lord. We are praying for you.

Read More 

  

photo
Characters: 6000
photo
Characters: 6000
Flag Post

Cheryl Nielsen published a tribute .

These songs that were suposed to be played or sung by me at Dad's funeral yesterday.

Read More 

 3 


Flag Post

Cheryl Nielsen published a comment .

Please find and play these songs online. They were meant to be the heart and soul of the service yesterday.

Read More 


Flag Post
C

Cheryl Nielsen published a comment .

- Wedding Song (There is Love) – by Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul, and Mary
- On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand – by Jars of Clay
- All the Way My Savior Leads Me – by Wintley Phipps
- Amazing Grace – by Alan Jackson (Or if time, by me to get all 6 verses.)
- In the Garden – by Anne Murray

Read More 


Flag Post

Cheryl Nielsen published a comment .

- Wedding Song (There is Love) – by Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul, and Mary
- On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand – by Jars of Clay
- All the Way My Savior Leads Me – by Wintley Phipps
- Amazing Grace – by Alan Jackson (Or if time, by me to get all 6 verses.)
- In the Garden – by Anne Murray

Read More 

photo
Characters: 6000
photo
Characters: 6000
Flag Post

Cheryl Nielsen published a tribute .

Hi,
I received the tragic news that your father, Kurt Nielsen, passed away. I am so sorry for your loss, and he will be greatly missed.

From 2015 to 2019, I had the privilege to work closely with your father and get to know him well. I could not have had a better mentor. He was incredibly patient, always encouraging me to ask questions, and always ensuring he did his best to answer them all as fully as possible. With his help, I learned magnitudes more than I would have otherwise, especially since when I started, I didn't even know what pulsed power was. By the time I left the lab, I was considered within my division as one of the foremost experts on the flash x-ray systems we worked on together, and I know there is no way I could have gotten to that point without the enormous amount of help and support I got from Kurt. That's just who he was, a person that helped enable everyone around him to be their best.

Not only was Kurt a great mentor, he was a great friend and great person in general. I will always remember the stories he told of many of the incredible projects he worked on and things he did, and will cherish those. My favorite being the one where he went diving in thousands of gallons of dielectric oil while checking out a new project he was brought in on, and how much the technicians were surprised and impressed. I also cherish the memories of knocking on his door and seeing his face light up with a smile when he saw it was me, and the following friendly chats we'd have together about just about anything, be it work projects, personal interests, world issues, and even politics. For someone as smart and knowledgeable as Kurt, I was always amazed at how down to earth he was and how much he cared about making things better for those around him. He really was a beacon.

Even now, I find his influence living on in me. I used to be much more direct and challenging about ideas for projects, but have found myself in recent years using many of Kurt's mannerisms. He had a way of presenting himself in a way that wasn't confrontation, but was still confident an afforded respect, and feel lucky to have learned some of that from him. Literally every time I start a sentence with the words "I suggest," I can't help but think of him and it brings tears to my eyes.

The world lost a great man, a man I cared for like family, so I write this through tears. I wish I had the right words to say just how much I feel for your loss. Just know that some day the smiles will come before the tears.

Sincerely,
Ryan Vlietstra

Read More 

  

photo
Characters: 6000
photo
Characters: 6000
Flag Post

Cheryl Nielsen published a tribute .

Kurt Nielsen May 2020

My name is Ian Smith. My career, like that of Kurt, has been in a field known as Pulsed Power, the generation and use of very large electrical pulses; often with currents of many millions of amperes at many millions of volts, just for a short time--less than a millionth of a second. The main application has been simulating the effects of nuclear weapons, which has been very important for our defense and ultimately helped make the testing of nuclear weapons unnecessary. Some Pulsed Power originated in Britain, and that is where I came from in 1967 to a company called Physics International (PI) in San Leandro California. Kurt arrived at PI in 1969.

That’s more than five decades ago, and my memory is hazy. I believe Kurt came from Wisconsin, and I know that we immediately became colleagues. PI had made huge strides in Pulsed Power, and was ahead of all other companies and government labs. Being a little ahead of Kurt, I was able to teach him a little, then Kurt and I learnt PI’s technology together. We were both in the trenches, often in rubber boots wading in the oil tanks that PI’s novel and often huge pulse-generators used. I learnt also that Kurt was a great colleague, always calm and considerate. He learned quickly, was very bright, and put forth very good arguments about what we should do next—but he was never argumentative. We did many interesting things together.

In 1976 I left PI and in 1980 formed, along with Phil Spence and Sidney Putnam, a new Pulsed Power company that we called Pulse Sciences, Inc. The company grew and began to build big hardware, usually of a different type from PI’s. We needed to bring on board bright, inventive people. One of the first who came to mind was Kurt, whom of course Phil and Sid knew well and appreciated too. So Kurt joined PSI and he and I resumed being colleagues, with many other colleagues, both old and new, as PSI grew. Kurt contributed much to PSI and was very popular; I remember him and his family coming to company picnics. Kurt became well-known outside PSI too, especially at National Laboratories, who were adopting the technology we had first developed in industry. One of these National Laboratories was Los Alamos in New Mexico. Kurt eventually left PSI to work at Los Alamos. I know he was very valued there too. My friend Ray Scarpetti was his colleague at Los Alamos for many years, and he will be able to say more about Kurt during that time.

While Kurt was most memorable to me as a friend and colleague, I will recount just one of his technical feats. At PI, with my collaboration, he built and tested the first of what became known as the Imploding Wire Array. This was a ring of fine metal wires that he imploded using the magnetic pressure from the millions of amperes of our pulse-generator ‘PITHON’. When the wires all collided they produced copious x-rays from the resulting hot plasma, which is like a part of the sun. This had never been done before, and it led to very big development programs, one of which produced millions of joules of x-rays and used these in fusion experiments. Kurt’s experiment was classified at the time--we could not even publish the details of PITHON--so you will not find Kurt’s name on a paper as an originator. But he was always very proud of this work, as he should be, and it certainly merits description here.

I will just close by saying that I will always have fond memories of Kurt, who will be greatly missed, and by extending my sympathy and warmest wishes to his family.

Read More 

  

photo
Characters: 6000
photo
Characters: 6000
Flag Post

Cheryl Nielsen published a tribute .

Kurt May 2018 Los Alamos National Laboratory

Read More 

  

photo
Characters: 6000
photo
Characters: 6000
Flag Post
C

Cheryl Nielsen published a tribute .

Kurt and Ruth 5Oth Wedding Anniversary 2009

Read More 

  

photo
Characters: 6000
photo
Characters: 6000

This Family has Entrusted their Care to:

Rivera Family Funeral Home - Los Alamos

Keepers

Send a Tribute