Albuquerque Journal - Thursday, January 16, 2003
Professor Ross Lomanitz Didn't Back Down From McCarthy-Era Charges
By Paul Logan
Journal Staff Writer
Ross Lomanitz, a popular New Mexico Tech professor, once was blacklisted from teaching physics after testifying before the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities.
Lomanitz died Jan. 1 of cancer at his home in Pahoa, Hawaii. He was 81.
He worked at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology from 1962 until he retired in 1991.
In 1988, Lomanitz received the university's most prestigious award for faculty members, its "Distinguished Teaching Award." Students nominate teachers, and a faculty panel determines the winner.
Barry Sabol, one of his former students, said Lomanitz was known for his kind, even-tempered personality and his way of treating everyone with respect, regardless of age.
"At any college, (there are) professors with ego problems and professors who are workaholics in their area of expertise," said Sabol, a laboratory manager for Tech's physics department. "He was not like that. He had time for people, and he was not pushy."
Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz was born in Oklahoma. He graduated from high school at age 14.
He went to graduate school in the early 1940s at the University of California at Berkeley. While there, he was a protÃ©gÃ© of the world-renowned physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who later would become known as the "father of the atomic bomb."
Lomanitz worked with Oppenheimer on a new method of electromagnetic separation of isotopes. Later, their work played a pivotal role in the development of the bomb as part of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, according to a Tech news release.
His graduate research was cut short by service in the Army during World War II.
Lomanitz, who earned a doctorate at Cornell University, later taught college physics for a time, said Elliott Moore, a Tech physics professor and former colleague.
About 50 years ago, Lomanitz, Oppenheimer and a number of other prominent Americans fell victim to the anti-Communist hysteria brought about by U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy. It would become known as McCarthyism, meaning the use of often unfounded accusations to suppress citizens and portray them as subversive.
Lomanitz was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C.
He adamantly asserted his loyalty to the United States. He also invoked the Fifth Amendment, declining to implicate either himself or others in involvement with alleged Communist activities, according to the Tech release.
"As a result of all that, (Lomanitz) got blacklisted," said Moore, referring to the practice of discriminating against people and refusing them employment.
He recalled that the talented physicist worked at several jobs, including as a railroad maintenance worker.
"He was too hot, I think, for a faculty to pick him up," Moore said.
But New Mexico Tech hired Lomanitz in 1962. He later became department chairman before a first bout of cancer forced him to leave the post, Moore said.
Lomanitz's style of teaching might have bored some people because he could work out everything mathematically from scratch, Sabol said.
"A lot of students basically want to get done and start making money rather than learn about the mathematics fundamentals of what they are studying," he said. "But there were students who were interested in that. And for those, Ross helped them a lot."
Moore said students loved Lomanitz's outgoing, friendly nature. He was noted for having "a very good relationship with just about everybody he knew."
"He was simply a very good teacher. His legacy was a devotion to the teaching profession and all that it meant."
Lomanitz is survived by his wife, Josephine.