Longtime U.Va. physics professor, Julian Noble, dies

April 27, 2007 -- Julian V. Noble, 66, physics professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, died on March 11, 2007, after a long illness.

A renaissance man with wide-ranging interests, Noble had a quick wit, an easy laugh and was a good dancer. He had a legendary storehouse of jokes and stories, and he could lecture on any subject at the drop of a hat.

“I will miss him,” said Dinko Pocanic, chairman of the Department of Physics, where Noble taught from 1971 until 2003. “I will miss the goodness of his character and his gentleness. He was a wonderful human being.”   

“He had an immense intellectual curiosity,” said Paul M. Fishbane, a physics professor who knew Noble from their days as graduate students at Princeton in the 1960s. “He was interested in a myriad of areas, and he would apply mathematics and physics tools to other fields.”

Fishbane said Noble had a strong reputation in theoretical nuclear physics, which has evolved into particle physics, though this field alone could not contain his curiosity.

“He was highly regarded as a nuclear physicist, and then he branched out,” Fishbane said. “He knew a lot of things other people didn’t know, and he applied it in a lot of different areas, such as crime statistics and how a plague spreads.”

His interests included nuclear and particle physics, astrophysics, theoretical biology and numerical methods. He had been programming computers since 1961 and was the author of “Scientific Forth, A Modern Language for Scientific Computing,” and the recently completed “Mathematical Techniques for Theoretical and Applied Sciences.” Most recently, he was a department editor for Computing in Science and Engineering, a technical magazine.

“Some people know a lot about a little. A few know a little about a lot. Julie knew a lot about a lot of things that have nothing to do with physics,” said Rabbi Daniel Alexander, in a statement read at Noble’s funeral. “He had a Renaissance man’s interest in and knowledge of science and medicine and art and literature and history, ancient and modern.”

Noble could also be a song-and-dance man.

“Julie regaled me with song upon song from the repertoire of Tom Lehrer [and] Danny Kaye …  songs with the long, multi-syllable words strung together and recited so fast one can almost not make them out, much less pronounce them,” Alexander noted. “Julie could pronounce them and recall with precision a vast array of such songs, and also the words to numerous skits from Monty Python.”   

Noble, educated in New York Public Schools, was a Grumman Scholar and received his bachelor’s of science in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1962 and his Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton University in 1966.

Noble was born on June 7, 1940, in the Bronx, N.Y.C., the son of Beatrice Noble and the late Jack Noble. He was married, for 46 years, to Harriet Noble and was the father of Deborah Noble Schlecht of Pasadena, Ca.; Lisa Ann Noble of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.; and Benjamin Noble, who predeceased