Obituary: Robert A. Buhrman

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Bob Buhrman passed away on April 13, 2021, at 75 years old. He was Cornell's second senior vice provost for research, John Edson Sweet Memorial Professor of Engineering Emeritus, and vice president for technology transfer and intellectual property, who helped expand emerging science and engineering programs.

Robert A. Buhrman
*24.04.1945 Waynesboro, Pennsylvania - †13.04.2021 Rochester, New York.

Throughout his professional career, Buhrman examined applied condensed matter physics, in nanoscale science and engineering. Early on, he studied superconducting devices and materials for solar absorbers. Later, he pioneered ways to control magnetism in order to store digital information.

He was hired as a Cornell faculty member immediately upon his graduation in 1973 and has since served in many important roles — as a founder of the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility (CNF), Director of the School of Applied and Engineering Physics (AEP), founding Director of the NSF-funded Cornell Center for Nanoscale Systems, and as Senior Vice Provost for Research at Cornell. He has done all of this while maintaining an innovative research group with broad interests and impact.
Buhrman led his field in developing methods to electrically manipulate nanoscale magnets to make magnetic memories faster and more efficient. He was among the pioneers who demonstrated magnetic switching in a multilayer device driven by spin-transfer torque, and a decade later he contributed to evidence magnetization reversal mediated by spin Hall effect, which can enable even more efficient magnetic switching. His innovations contributed to the understanding and development of magnetic random-access memory (MRAM) technology, now in production at leading semiconductor foundries.

While he helped to expand Cornell’s science research programs and bring brick-and-mortar facilities to Cornell, friends and colleagues said he was always guided by his love for physics, engineering and teaching.
“Bob Buhrman was a visionary and effective leader for more than 50 years at Cornell, helping to organize numerous research centers, serving as director of Applied and Engineering Physics and as vice provost for research,” said Dan Ralph, Ph.D. ’93, the F.R. Newman Professor of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). “He was a valued mentor to countless students and young faculty, providing wisdom on how to succeed in science and engineering.”
Andrew Bass, the Horace White Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior, and the senior associate dean for math and science in A&S, worked closely with Buhrman when he was the associate vice provost for research. “He strove to maintain the very highest standards in scholarly research and administration. And Bob was a keen observer of the human condition – as his understanding of the universe went far beyond its physical principles. His death has left a deep void in the lives of many.”

Adapted from Cornell Chronicle

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