In Memoriam: Donald Scarl

September 17, 1935 - March 13, 2023

Memorial services were held on March 19, 2023 at the Dodge-Thomas Funeral Home in Glen Cove, followed by a burial at Locust Valley Cemetery. Memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared for the Scarl family.

The entire NYU Tandon community mourns the passing, on March 13, 2023, of Professor Emeritus of Applied Physics Donald Scarl, a brilliant presence at our school for decades. 

Born in Easton, Pennsylvania, on September 17, 1935, Professor Scarl earned his bachelor’s degree at Lehigh University in 1957, followed by a doctoral degree from Princeton in 1962. He began his academic career at Cornell, and in 1967 he joined the faculty of what was then called Brooklyn Poly, a precursor to NYU Tandon. He remained at the school through several name changes, teaching and conducting research in optics and high-energy physics.  

Known for his devotion to his students, he served as a valued advisor to numerous graduate students. One, Robert Yang, wrote in an online tribute: “Don was my thesis advisor for my Ph.D. work at Poly from 1982 to 1987. He was more like a father figure to me as I had just transitioned to a new country and started a new life. He was my model and for more than four decades I have tried to follow in his footsteps and to be useful to society, just like him.”    

Professor Scarl was equally dedicated to the school’s undergraduate students. Seeking to demystify what is sometimes perceived as an opaque discipline, he wrote How to Solve Problems: For Success in Freshman Physics, Engineering, and Beyond, which was originally published in 1989 and reissued several times.

His colleagues in the department will miss his generosity and knowledge. According to Professor Stephen Arnold, who specializes in Optics: “Don developed an interest in Quantum Optics starting in the 1960s and published seminal articles in this area. He was well ahead of the pending technologies, which loom in the area of quantum communication. His generosity in sharing this knowledge with colleagues and students will be missed, considering that the last Nobel Prize in physics entangled all of us in the grand possibilities to come.” 

His professional affiliations included the American Physical Society and Optical Society of America, and in addition to his service to the school and the optics field, he was an active participant in community and neighborhood organizations; he is the founder of the Coalition for Glen Cove, a group aimed at promoting qualified candidates for the local School Board. 

“Donald Scarl will be missed by anyone lucky enough to have studied or worked with him,” said John Di Bartolo, the Chair of Tandon’s Department of Applied Physics. “Our deepest condolences go to his wife, Barbara; his daughter, Judith; and every member of his large, loving extended family.”