School 14

Louis Hand

October 16, 1933 ~ October 30, 2023 (age 90) 90 Years Old

Louis Hand Obituary

On Monday, October 30, Louis Neff Hand passed away at Kendal of Ithaca following a stroke, surrounded by his daughters and caregivers. The family had gathered to celebrate his 90th birthday just two weeks earlier.

Lou was born in Hollywood, California on October 16, 1933 to Pattie (Neff) and Darwin C. Hand. Born during the Great Depression, he often told the story of his sixth birthday party, which coincided with his parents’ final payment to the obstetrician who had delivered him.

His family eventually moved to Summit, New Jersey and Lou completed his last two years of high school at the Lawrenceville School. He earned his B.A. with High Honors from Swarthmore College, where he majored in mathematics (with a minor in physics), graduating in 1955 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. At Swarthmore he joined Phi Delt, and made many friends. He later wrote that the warmth of the people at Swarthmore is what he remembered best and, at times, missed most. In 1961, he received a Ph.D. in experimental physics from Stanford University. He always spoke very highly of his thesis advisor, W.K.H. Panofsky.

Lou met the love of his life, Elizabeth “Betsy” (Kasanin) Hand, at a party in Berkeley in 1955. They married in 1956. He loved to tell the story of how they met. He saw her arrive at the party, he heard her speak (he remembered the exact words), and he decided that he wanted to marry her. He made the drive to Berkeley every weekend after that, always stopping for flowers along the way.

Their first child, Jonathan, was born in 1958. Together the family moved east so that Lou could take up a position as a Research Associate at Harvard, where he worked on experiments at the new Cambridge Electron Accelerator. His daughter, Brooke (Hand) Gifford, was born in Boston in 1962. Lou became an Assistant Professor at Harvard in 1964.

In 1965 Lou accepted a position as a tenured Associate Professor at Cornell in the Laboratory of Nuclear Physics. The family made their home in Ithaca, where two more daughters were born, Pattie Hand in 1968 and Sonya (Hand) Stover in 1974. It was during this time, in 1971, that he was promoted to full Professor, a position he held for 37 years until he became Professor Emeritus in 2008. He didn’t necessarily enjoy the “central isolation” of Ithaca, at first, but eventually he almost adapted to it. (He was a Californian at heart.)

Lou joined the field of experimental high energy physics during an exciting era. He proposed and partnered with others on some major discoveries. He conceived and performed the first pion-produced muon pair experiment at Brookhaven’s Alternating Gradient Synchrotron in 1965, which led to the discovery of the subatomic J/ψ particle by Sam Ting in 1974. Lou went on to propose experiments at Fermilab, including one that led to the discovery of scaling violations, later known as asymptotic freedom. (In 1970, he proposed an experimental search at Fermilab for possible Bjorken scale invariance violations in the deep inelastic scattering of muons.) The work at Fermilab was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Lou’s work also took him to major research centers in Europe. A Guggenheim Fellowship in conjunction with an SRC Fellowship at Oxford University brought him to England in 1980-81. The NSF supported work at the DESY electron-proton collider in Germany between 1982-1989, where he spent about a third of each year. In 1989 he spent four months on the staff at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland working in the control room of the LEP accelerator, which was being commissioned at that time. Additional research ranged from polarizing electrons, to niobium film, to the search for new high temperature superconductors.

Lou was particularly proud of the textbook he published with Cambridge University Press in 1998 titled Analytical Mechanics. Written together with his colleague, Janet (Finch) Scheel, this junior-level classical mechanics text is still in print and continues to be used in university classrooms. It was innovative in its day for the way it was designed to facilitate collaborative problem-solving between instructors and students using a brand-new technology: email.

While Lou may have been a physicist by trade, he was a renaissance man to those who knew him. He read voraciously outside his field, especially about English history, which he explored in his later years as an amateur genealogist. He had a way with words – employing word economy to make an emphatic point or, conversely, detailed storytelling to entertain friends. He enjoyed taking care of animals and plants and learning everything about them. He collected snakes and bats as a child; as an adult he nurtured seedlings in the refrigerator year-round. He planted a dawn redwood tree – a type of redwood that was considered extinct until it was discovered in China in 1946 – that is still growing tall at the family’s former home in Ithaca.

Lou traveled to various locations for work and pleasure, including the Baja California peninsula, Russia, and Bora Bora, and enjoyed telling stories about his travel experiences. He loved music, playing a wide range of genres on the family stereo, from country to classical and opera (encompassing The Carter Family, Mozart and Pavarotti), and he shared this appreciation with his children. Photography was a lifelong hobby. Lou had a darkroom as a child in Summit; photographs that he took of “the great blizzard” at the end of December 1946 were printed in the Summit Herald (earning him a “tidy sum”). He was also an avid tennis player, like his dad. 

Lou is survived by his younger sister, Susan Hand; his three daughters: Brooke, Pattie, and Sonya; as well as five grandchildren: Andrew, Rachel, Eliza, Peter, and Lily. He was predeceased by his wife, Betsy, and their son, Jonathan. Lou leaves behind innumerable colleagues and friends from the wide world of arts and sciences, with whom he relished the exchanges of ideas and stories. A private memorial service was held on Friday, November 3rd. Donations in lieu of flowers may be sent to Save the Redwoods League (

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Graveside Service
November 3, 2023

1:00 PM
Pleasant Grove Cemetery
184 Pleasant Grove Road
Ithaca, NY 14850

Video is available for this event


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