Hellmut Fritzsche, Professor Emeritus of Physics, 1927 to 2018

June 19, 2018

Hellmut Fritzsche, in glasses, suit, and tie, leans against a staircase railing.

University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf7-00289, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Hellmut Fritzsche, Professor Emeritus of Physics in the James Franck Institute, died with his wife Sybill Fritzsche, an influential civil rights lawyer, on June 17, 2018.

Their joint obituary in the Arizona Daily Star reads:

"Hellmut and Sybille Fritzsche ended their lives with dignity on June 17, 2018, after 66 years of happy marriage. Both were born in Germany, in 1927 and 1931 respectively. They came as students to the United States for the first time in 1950, fortunate to be selected to be among the group of European students who were invited by the US government to come to the United States for one year. As the Louis Block Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago, Hellmut Fritzsche was one of the pioneers researching crystalline and amorphous semiconductors, the materials that enabled the digital and computer revolution. With his students he was credited to be the first to have used Synchrotron radiation as a light source for optical studies at high photon energies. Hellmut chaired the Department of Physics of the University of Chicago for nine years, during which time he initiated and oversaw the building of the Kersten Physics Teaching Center. He received many professional honors, including an honorary Doctor of Science from Purdue and Nanjing Universities, the Oliver Buckley Condensed Matter Physics Prize of the American Physical Society, and the Alexander von Humboldt Award. Teaching and research brought him and Sybille to many places, including Nanjing University; Shanghai Institute of Ceramics; Tbilisi State University in the then Soviet Georgia; the Tata Institute in Mumbai, India; the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart; the Foundation for Research and Technology on Crete, Greece; and Trinity College at Cambridge University, England. Hellmut was vice president for United Solar Corp. in Troy, Michigan.

Sybille Fritzsche earned her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School and became a very successful and influential civil rights lawyer in Chicago, first as a legal counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union and then as Executive Director of the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Equal Rights under Law. Her successful litigation of Doe vs. Scott in 1971 revolutionized family planning in Illinois, and was foundational for the Roe vs. Wade abortion case a year later. Her legal work focused on relieving inequities of funding of schools, libraries, park facilities and transportation in both predominantly white and African American communities in Chicago. She succeeded in improving rules and conditions regarding the treatment of women prisoners. Among other duties she was appointed to the Governing Board of Cook County Hospital. She held professorships at the law faculties of De Paul University and Chicago-Kent Law School. The Illinois House of Representatives passed a resolution thanking her for her tireless work on behalf of civil rights and civil liberties. After 28 years as a lawyer she followed another of her passions and became a scholar of Chinese History, earning a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1990. In 1996 they moved to their present home in Tucson, Arizona. They became members and supporters of the Early Music Society, the Tucson Museum of Art, and the Contemporary Art Society. Their lives were enriched by a large circle of friends and by travels to fascinating countries, political readings and discussions, mountains of books, and all the cultural events a university city can offer. Hellmut and Sybille loved their four children and eight grandchildren. They lived long and happy lives."

David Bevington, Secretary of Faculty Emeriti and co-chair of the Emeriti Steering Committee, on Hellmut Fritzsche:

"I remember him as an innovative chair of the Physics Department from 1977 to 1986, during which time he planned and oversaw the building of the Kersten Physics Teaching Center. He had a particular interest in the teaching of physics, to undergraduates and graduates; I had the great pleasure of sitting in on some pilot classes exploring teaching methods. He held a number of patents, especially in the field semiconductors, and served from 1969 to 2003 as a member of the board of directors of United Solar Systems Corp. He and I and our families lived as neighbors on Blackstone Avenue and played quartets together occasionally; he loved playing the violin."