Abraham Yoffe obituary

Other lives: Explosives expert and founding fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge

My grandfather Abraham Yoffe, who has died aged 102, was an explosives expert, a research physicist at Cambridge University’s Cavendish laboratory, and a founding fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge.

Abe was born in Jerusalem to Haim Yoffe, a rabbi, and his wife, Leah (nee Kreindal). He lived in Australia as a child, attending Melbourne high school. He studied chemistry at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1941, and stayed for a master’s.

In 1942, Abe joined the Australian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to investigate the causes of unpredicted explosions, which could completely destroy explosives factories. Within a remarkably short period, Abe and his colleagues showed that, if tiny bubbles were present in liquid nitroglycerine, its sensitivity to mechanical impact increased, leading to greater risk of explosion.

In 1944, he moved to Cambridge, where he completed his PhD in 1948. Following three years as a senior scientist in physical chemistry at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, Abe returned to Cambridge, and in 1958 was appointed assistant director of research of the physics and chemistry of solids group (PCS), part of the Cavendish laboratory. In 1961 he became a doctor of science and in 1968 he was appointed to a readership in physics.

In 1964, when Darwin College was founded, Abe became one of the first 12 fellows, and he remained a fellow for 58 years, contributing to the welfare of the college by attracting many talented postgraduates, research fellows and scientists of international reputation.

Abe was appointed head of PCS in 1981 until his retirement in 1987. He then became a member of the optoelectronics group, researching the physics of quantum confined materials.

After retiring he enjoyed skiing – an interest of his since the 1940s – and tennis. He loved football and spent many happy days watching Cambridge City, Cambridge United and occasionally Tottenham Hotspur. He also loved cycling around Cambridge and over the fens to Ely.

Abe married Elizabeth Mann in 1949. She died in 2014. He is survived by their children Deborah, Gideon and Susan, his 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Another son, Jonathon (Jay), died in 1988.

Sarah Bax

The GuardianTramp

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