Dr. Richard H Maurer (PhD 1970)


Dr. Maurer received his PhD in Physics at the University of Pittsburgh in 1970.  His thesis focused on high energy physics and has translated into a career in high energy radiation processes.  This includes the study of the effects of cosmic rays, high energy electrons and protons on electronics, and materials and humans in both natural and weapons radiation environments. “The strengths of the Pitt Physics Department,” says Maurer, “coincided with my interests in nuclear or particle physics and allowed me to do theoretical work.”  His thesis was completed under the guidance of Raymond Willey. About his advisor, Maurer says, “Dr. Willey was very low key and I always appreciated his calm demeanor and gentle criticism”.  As he explains, his most memorable memories are of the milestones common to all graduate students as they work their way toward a doctoral degree; passing the comprehensive exam, defending his PhD dissertation, and publishing the results of his PhD research.  Looking back on his time here at the University, he states, “Pitt has provided me with an excellent graduate education and my son, now a neuroscientist, with an excellent undergraduate education. My education has literally changed my family’s level of achievement, well-being and quality of life. It has already touched three generations.”

Prior to joining the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University, Maurer spent over seven year at AMP, Inc., a large electrical connector manufacturer where he learned the details of accelerated environmental testing.  Now, as APL’s Principal Staff Physicist, he serves as the radiation physicist, or radiation engineer, on unmanned spacecraft missions.  Given the orbit for these mission spacecraft, he models the radiation environment, develops the requirements for the hardware to survive this environment, and qualifies electronic devices and materials against the mission radiation requirements. He also assists in determining how to lessen the effects of the radiation so that mission enabling electronic devices can be flown.

His most memorable professional milestones include both the NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) spacecraft, which landed on the asteroid Eros in 2000, and the MESSENGER spacecraft, which is presently in orbit about the planet Mercury since March 18, 2011. Both spacecraft were the first to achieve these accomplishments and Maurer was an integral part of the mission teams.

As a Pitt Physics alumnus and an established leader of the APL, he offers the following insights on how to be successful in the long term and at large organizations: “Both a broad physics background and a willingness to be flexible and adopt expertise to new problems have helped me continue to contribute and to be employed over my career. Learning about handling personal and professional relationships is important for participation in any large organization that uses a team approach to attack significant technical problems. On teams of 100 colleagues it is important to learn to deal with even those whom you may not like in a civil manner. The goal of the team is more important than one’s own ego.”

If you’d like to learn more about the fascinating missions our alumnus has been a part of, please see the following links: