Dr. John Guillory, 1940-2013

I have to report with deep sorrow the death on Sunday, July 28 of my colleague and friend, Dr. John Guillory. The cause was cancer. John had helped LPP’s focus fusion effort mightily over the years with his theoretical insights, especially with our ongoing effort to simulate the functioning of the plasma focus device. He will be greatly missed by many.

John Guillory was one of those very rare individuals who was able to excel in both science and the arts, being an excellent plasma physicist and a talented and active musician as well. Few people indeed can leave behind them, as John has, a body of work including over 100 physics publications, more than 30 musical compositions and 20 scholarly works on the history of music. John was Senior Contract Professor (and then Professor Emeritus) in the School of Computational Sciences at George Mason University.  In 1974, he founded Musical Antiqua, an ensemble that performs music of the Renaissance and Middle Ages. He served as director, musicologist, producer and performer with the group until he retired in 1999. He was also director of the Duke of Berry Ensemble, director of the Cor d’Hier Ensemble, and president of the Washington Early Music Society. He had an extensive collection of replicas of medieval and Renaissance musical instruments, and was known for his demonstrations of these instruments. He also performed with the Story Minstrels, a quartet of musicians who visit schools to present period stories and music.

John received a B.A. in Physics at Rice University (Phi Beta Kappa, honors) and a Ph.D. in Physics at University of California, Berkeley. He was active in plasma physics research for forty years, and became one of the leading experts in the study of ion and electron beams.  This is a field that has extensive applications in astrophysics, as vast beams of particles are emitted from stars during their formation, and from the centers of galaxies. Beams also have particular relevance to the dense plasma focus device. Last  year John was immensely helpful to our efforts to improve our theory of how beams help to heat the tiny plasmoid where fusion reactions occur in the plasma focus.   He studied theoretically the many instabilities that plasmas are capable of, instabilities that have contributed to the formation of stars and galaxies and that here on earth are central to the effort to develop fusion energy.

John also became one of the leading experts in the extremely complex field of computer simulation of plasmas. He developed the “snapshot” technique for multistage plasma simulations.  This was a very clever way to simulate plasma processes that went on at very different time scales. Beginning in 2008, he was the key physicist in LPP’s effort to simulate our device, first in collaboration with his former graduate student Dave Rose and later with LPP’s contract computer scientist, Dr. Warwick Dumas. In this still ongoing process, John developed an original theory of the initiation of filamentation in plasma, and, working with me, helped to uncover some errors even in the “bible” of plasma physics, the Naval Research Laboratory’s Plasma Formulary. The initial simulations developed in this work have already led to significant re-designs of FF-1’s electrodes and, we believe, improvements in its performance.

In this work with us, John showed his immense strengths as a physicist and teacher. He combined a deep understanding of the physical processes that mathematical formulae describe, a great facility with math and a thorough knowledge of computer simulation methods. That combination was invaluable in working with Warwick, whose background is in math and computer science. While Warwick would often zoom far head of John and myself in developing computational schemes, he needed to be brought up to speed on many of our physics problems, and John was able to do that with a clarity and depth that was a pleasure to see.

I first met John a decade ago, through our mutual interest in problems of cosmology, and have worked intensively with him over the past five years. He was not only an immense pleasure to work with; he was a man of extraordinary equanimity.  Even when confronted with his own imminent death from a painful disease, he seemed to never lose his internal balance. When I last talked to him on his 73rd birthday, two weeks before he died, he described with enthusiasm his “Bastille Day” party the day before, celebrating the fall of, as he said, “that thieving French monarchy”. Despite his increasing pain, he was able to participate in the music-making of the party. He told me then that he had little time left but said that he was satisfied with and proud of the work that he had done in physics and in music. He had every right to be proud—and the work and the memories he has left with those who have known him will live on. While it will become more difficult without his help, we here at LPP will carry on with the simulation work he so ably advanced. John wanted that and at the end wished us all success.

For those who want to learn more about John, we expect to be posting a list of his publications and compositions in the near future.

-By Eric Lerner

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