November 16, 2010

Cornell Prof. Paul Kintner Dies at 64

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After a life spent studying the sky, Prof. Paul Kintner, electrical and computer engineering, died Monday following a bout with pancreatic cancer.

Colleagues described Kintner, who also headed Cornell’s Global Positioning Systems Laboratory, as a pioneer in his field who cared deeply about his undergraduate and graduate students.

“Paul was just incredible. One of the greatest auroral scientists,” said Kintner’s friend and colleague Prof. Michael Kelley, electrical and computer engineering, who first met Kintner in 1968 when the two were graduate students in Canada.

Kelley described how Kintner “saw almost immediately that GPS was going to be huge for engineers,” leading him to make Cornell’s GPS facility “the first and best in the world.”

After coming to Cornell as a research associate in 1976, Kintner studied the interaction of radio signals with space environments. His “most well-known instrument”  was the “plasma wave interferometer for measuring the phase velocity and wavelength of space plasma waves,” which allowed him to discover “electrostatic ion cyclotron waves, double layers and lower hybrid solitary” in space, according to the GSPL’s website.

Kintner was also a fellow of the American Physical Society, chaired NASA’s Sun-Earth Connections Advisory Sub-Committee and, last year, served as a Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State, according to the University.

“So many students around the country and world have emulated him,” Kelley said. “So many places [have] followed his lead.”

Kintner had been on sabbatical when he found he had cancer in May, and did not return to teach this semester.

Colleagues also praised Kintner for his selfless and gracious attitude, which he especially exhibited after learning of his illness.

Kintner “worked very hard to make sure all the people he had worked for and with him were taken care of [and that they were] not going to suffer because he was no longer there,” said Prof. Donald Farley, electrical and computer engineering.

“He made sure we all have somewhere to go afterwards,” said Brady O’Hanlon grad, who, after serving as a teaching assistant for Kintner, now teaches Kintner’s classes.

O’Hanlon said Kintner’s door “was literally always open,” and called his professor “an excellent advisor not just to his grad students but to his undergraduates and other advisees as well.”

Farley, who was Kintner’s next-door office mate for at least 10 years, recalled “bitching [with Kintner] about how annoying the controls on the GPS watch were,” which the two professors, both runners, had bought.

Kintner’s absence is “going to make a big hole,” said Prof. Lester Eastman, electrical and computer engineering, calling Kintner an “ideal professor.”

Kintner is survived by his wife, Constance Bart Kintner, his four children and extended family.

Original Author: Jeff Stein