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UNM Hall Named for 'Brilliant Teacher'

By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer
    Victor H. Regener led the University of New Mexico's Department of Physics and Astronomy for decades.
    He was an "old-school professor" for whom Regener Hall is named. The celebrated scientist built cosmic ray telescopes and developed Capilla Peak Astronomical Observatory in the Manzanos, where he performed astronomical and solar observations and studied light, among other things.
    "He loved scientific work," said Elliott S. Bailey Sr., operations manager of the Physics and Astronomy Department. "Research was his life."
    Regener died Jan. 20 in Tampa, Fla., where he had recently relocated. He was 92.
    A memorial service will take place at 10 a.m. today at Monte Vista Christian Church, 3501 Monte Vista NE.
    Regener in 1960 became the first faculty scholar to deliver UNM's annual Research Lecture. He was responsible for designing a major addition to the original Physics and Astronomy building, as well.
    As a measure of Regener's influence, when he retired from the Physics and Astronomy department in 1979, after 33 years at the university, he was awarded the Regents' Meritorious Service Medal.
    Written by Tony Hillerman, the dedication on the medal states: "As a scientist, Victor Regener brought this university international respect. As a brilliant teacher, he endowed a legion of his students with a love of the demanding discipline of physics. As a leader of faculty thought, he improved a thousand faculty debates with his keen intelligence, his humanism, and his good-natured wit. For 33 years, he has given this community a model of what a university professor should be."
    The medal is displayed in the lobby of the physics and astronomy building.
    Born in Berlin, Germany— his father was a physics professor at Stuttgart University— Regener earned his doctorate in engineering physics from the Institute of Technology in Stuttgart in 1938.
    He left Germany that year, during the Nazi regime, and took a research position at the University of Padua in Italy, before teaching at the University of Chicago.
    He arrived at UNM in 1946 as an associate professor of physics, and was chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1947-57 and from 1962-79.
    Derek B. Swinson, a physics professor emeritus at UNM, stated in a memoir about Regener that "his research demonstrated tremendous breadth of interests."
    Swinson wrote that Regener built cosmic ray telescopes. One was in a mine on Mount Chacaltuya in the Bolivian Andes, another in Embudo Cave in the Sandias and one in a mine in Socorro.
    "He built Capilla Peak Astronomical Observatory in the Manzano Mountains ... where he conducted astronomical and solar observations, studied zodiacal light, and a secondary brightening called 'gegenschein' on the opposite side of the sky from the sun," Swinson wrote. "Victor also made observations of atmospheric ozone, both at the Earth's surface and using detectors flown from balloons."
    Regener also built an instrument to measure solar ultra-violet radiation in multiple wavelength ranges, and it was flown on the Orbiting Geophysical Observatory Satellite, Swinson wrote. He conducted research on pulsars using data he collected from the Capilla Peak outpost, too.
    According to Swinson, Regener designed each part of every experiment and built equipment from scratch in the department's glass and machine shops.
    As department chair, he was said to be supportive and protective of his faculty. As a teacher, he was called "outstanding" and "superb"— a no-nonsense professor who worked his students.
    "He was one of those old-school professors where, when you have a class and the class starts at nine o'clock, when the second hand passed nine, the door got shut and if you didn't make it in time, you got an F for that class," Bailey said. "He was very gentle and very kind, but he was strict."
    When word of Regener's death reached friends and former students, some of them shared their memories of him, posting their thoughts on the department's Web site.
    "He was a dedicated physicist and educator," Betty (Phelan) Prince wrote. "Many of us benefited from his love of the field."
    "He was the best chair in my opinion, and quite a physicist," wrote Dr. Byron Dieterle. "One of the last of the classical experimentalists."
    Though he left UNM, Regener never really retired. He had built his own lab in the Journal Center area.
    "He got into printed circuit work, and had a complete digitizer that he built himself," Bailey said.
    Regener is survived by his wife, Birgit; son, Eric; daughter, Vivian and her husband, Richard Rose; and four grandchildren. Donations can be made to the Victor H. Regener Memorial Fund, c/o the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of New Mexico, 800 Yale NE, MSC 07 4220, Albuquerque, NM, 87131.