Physics and Astronomy

In Fond Memory of Professor Emeritus Harvey Leff

January 2, 2024

Harvey Leff

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is sad to announce the passing of Professor Emeritus Harvey Leff on Saturday, December 30, 2023, in Portland Oregon, at the age of 86. He had a long career in physics, working at institutions as varied as Case Western Reserve University, Chicago State University, and Cal Poly Pomona, where he was a Professor from 1983 to 2001, Department Chair from 1983 to 1995, and Professor Emeritus from 2001 on. A passionate educator, Harvey served as President of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) in 2007, and was made a Fellow of AAPT in 2014. He was also widely respected for his deep insights into thermodynamics, and was made a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in 2017.

Harvey was beloved by students and colleagues for his personable as much as he was respected for his leadership skills and physics insights. His former student Walter Christensen, a Lecturer in the Department who remained in contact with Harvey decades after graduating, said “To know Harvey Leff was to experience warm humor. With the duality that his humor could be dry as dry ice. Except always he had his infamous smile and quiet laughter that made people feel more human and welcome.”

A Renaissance man, Harvey played drums in the country rock band “The Outlaws of Physics”, a group of musically-inclined CPP physics faculty and staff. The Outlaws generously endowed a scholarship for the Department of Physics and Astronomy, recognizing academic excellence in a graduating senior nominated by the faculty each year.

After retiring from CPP, Harvey and his wife Ellen relocated to Portland, Oregon, where he was appointed a visiting scholar at Reed College. Current Department Chair Alex Small once had the delightful surprise of going to Reed to give a scientific talk and encountering Harvey in the audience. “It was nice to see a familiar face from Pomona, and have an insightful discussion of science with him at dinner afterwards” said Prof. Small.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy has established the Outlaws of Physics Fund, through which donors can continue to support our mission of teaching, research, and student support.