Harvey S. Leff

July 24, 1937 - December 30, 2023

Quoting from the February 2007 issue of The Physics Teacher: “Harvey 'Styx' Leff brings a formidable combination of ability, passion, and demonstrated accomplishment—in the classroom, in research, in academic leadership, and on musical stages—to his service to AAPT." 

After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa under the direction of Max Dresden, he taught on the faculty at Case Western Reserve University, Harvey Mudd College, and Chicago State University. He spent four years as an energy policy analyst for the Oak Ridge Associated Universities before joining the faculty at Cal Poly Pomona in 1983 as department chair. He built a Physics Department that actively encouraged and rewarded excellence in physics teaching and the participation of faculty members in AAPT. In 2010, he became a visiting scholar at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Devoted to the improvement of education at the pre-college level, he iniated the PHUN (Physics High School-University Network) program at Cal Poly Pomona, presented numerous workshops for K-12 teachers, and taught hands-on science in many claasses. For more than a decade he served as Cal Poly Pomona's Liaison Scientist to the Hacienda-La Puenta Univied School District making many trips to the district's schools to give workshops and provide guidance for students' activities in science.

He served as an officer and Section Representative of the Southern California Section of AAPT from 1987 to 2005, Associate Editor of the American Journal of Physics 1992-95, Chair of AAPT's Professional Concerns Committee 1999 2000, and Chair of the AAPT Nominating Committee 2003-04. He was subsequently elected to the AAPT Presidential Chain, serving as Vice President in 2005, President-Elect in 2006, President in 2007, and Past President in 2008. He was on the Governing Board of the American Institute of Physics 2006-2008. Leff was a Fellow of the American Association of Physics Teacher and a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Among Leff's scientific publications, primarily related to thermal physics, are dozens articles, letters, and book reviews in AAPT's American Journal of Physics and a half dozen in The Physics Teacher. He was a referee for these journals for over forty years. Serving the wider physics-teaching community, Harvey was an organizer of the Gordon Research Conference on Physics Education and Research on Quantum Mechanics in 2002 and Classical Mechanics and Non-linear Dynamics in 2004. In 2003, he co-edited the anthology, Maxwell's Demon 2: Entropy, Classical and Quantum Information, Computing. Finally, using the nickname Styx, Leff became the drummer for the Out-Laws of Physics in 2003.

In 2010 upon learning he would receive an AAPT Distinguished Service Citation, Harvey commented, "AAPT has been a critical element of my growth and success as a physics teacher and I am thrilled to have been chosen for a DSC. I am reminded that when comedian Jack Benny was presented with an award, he quipped that he didn't deserve the award, but didn't deserve arthritis either. I feel the same way, including the arthritis! Without AAPT, my career would have been far less fruitful and my life far less rich. Thank you AAPT."

Well known for his knowledge of physics, his empathy and wisdom, and his sense of humor and love for a good pun, Leff was an inspiration to young and old who had the honor and prvilege to work and play with him. Without him, AAPT would have been far less fruitful and less rich. Thank you Harvey Leff.

Read Harvey Leff's obituary.

Cal Poly Memorial Announcement


David Wolfe

Director of Communications