470 Massachusetts Avenue, Acton MA 01720


William J. Burke Jr.

William J. Burke Jr.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
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Acton, MA

Burke, William Joseph Jr. of Acton, MA, age 85, passed away on October 20, 2020. Born in 1935, in Newton, MA to Grace (McMullen) and William Sr. He and his wife Hsiao-hua (Kuo) met at Rice University, Houston, Texas and had been married since 1973. They have three children and five grandchildren; daughter Elaine (son-in-law James Glover, and granddaughter Annabelle) of Rome, Italy, daughter Maddy (son-in-law Bryan Gothie, granddaughter Kaleigh, grandsons Max and Sam) of Sudbury, and son Billy (daughter-in-law Elyse, granddaughter Leila) of New York. The five grandchildren have been his pride and joy. He is also survived by his brother James (former sister-in-law Jane), sister Patricia Shea (brother-in-law George), sister-in-law Sandra, and many nephews, nieces and cousins. He is predeceased by his parents, sister Virginia and brother John.

Bill earned his Ph.D. from MIT in 1971 with a doctoral dissertation entitled "A Theoretical Investigation of Small Scale Auroral Zone Electric Fields and Their Relation to Particle Precipitation Patterns". From 1971 through 1975, he conducted postdoctoral research on Apollo measurements of the lunar plasma environment at Rice University, Houston Texas and on microwave emissions from natural surfaces at the NASA Johnson Space Flight Center. Since joining the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in 1975 he worked on the analysis of space plasma and fields data from many Air Force and NASA satellites. He is internationally recognized for his significant contributions to the understanding of the space environment and the hazards impacting the operation of Air Force space systems.

His technical publications over four decades address a wide range of topics concerning near-Earth space plasmas, spacecraft interactions with natural and artificial environments, and the effects of man-made perturbations on local distributions of energetic particles and electromagnetic waves. Although he published over 250 scientific papers, getting published was not his primary goal. "Writing is important," he liked to say, "not just to publish, but to help understand what must really be happening to explain our measurements."

One of the more memorable projects he worked on was the Tethered Satellite System (TSS), circa 1996, a joint program between the U.S. Air Force, NASA and the Italian Space Agency. The TSS mission goal was to understand the electro-magnetic interaction between the ambient space and the tether/ satellite/ space shuttle. This would help develop the capability for future tether applications on the Shuttle and Space Station. For this project he authored and co-authored over 20 papers with his international collaborators.

During his long career, Bill received numerous awards and recognitions. Two occasions are highlighted here: the 1998 Air Force Fellows Award and 2005 Birkeland Lecture in Oslo, Norway.

He was the recipient of the 1998 Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Fellows Award. The induction ceremony was held at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. Major General Richard Paul, who presided over the event, proclaimed “Tonight we induct our first "class" of AFRL Fellows. The Fellows program continues a long-standing tradition within Air Force to recognize the most outstanding scientists and engineers for their exceptional accomplishments.” Coincidentally the ceremony was also the celebration of another momentous event: the first year anniversary of the standup of the organization - the Air Force Research Laboratory.

In 2005, he was invited to deliver the Birkeland Lecture in Oslo, Norway. The lecture takes place to commemorate the Norwegian Scientist Kristian Birkeland who brought fame to Norway. 2005 was also a special year as it was decreed as the World Year of Physics by the United Nations. 2005 was chosen because it marked the 100 years anniversary of many of Albert Einstein’s scientific achievements. Dr. Burke’s lecture, on 22 September 2005, was titled: “Kristian Birkeland’s Message from the Sun: Its Meaning Then and Now”. In his collaboration with Norwegian physicists, he also co-authored two biographies, titled “Kristian Birkeland - The First Space Scientist” and “Carl Stormer - Auroral Pioneer.”

Bill never quite retired from physics research. After AFRL, he worked part time at Boston College Institute for Scientific Research, with his most recent papers published in 2019 and another submitted in 2020. He was recently awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation furthering space physics research.

In his spare time, Bill enjoyed golf, which he regarded as a game of physics of imparting random impulses to spherical objects and contending with the unexpected consequences of errant trajectories and aerodynamic misbehavior. He enjoyed the annual family trip to Aruba. Bill relished taking revenge on his children by teaching his grandchildren to be naughty. He also loved gardening and yard work. He proudly mowed both of his lawns in Acton and Cape Cod until 2019.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the funeral Mass celebrated,Monday October 26th, 2020 in St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, Acton, MA was private.

Those who wish may make tribute gifts in memory of Mr Burke to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research at the following online link: https://tribute.michaeljfox.org/tribute-page.php?id=1659

Memorial page actonfuneralhome.com
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Memorial Program

We have provided a digital copy (PDF) of the Memorial Program that we supply at the time of the service. To Download this file please click the filename below. William J. Burke Jr. - Memorial Program

Service Details

  • Service

    Private Funeral Mass at St. Elizabeth's of Hungary Church
    Those who wish may make tribute gifts in memory of Mr Burke to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research at the following online link: https://tribute.michaeljfox.org/tribute-page.php?id=1659


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Private Condolence

Darryl Greenwood

Posted at 04:58pm
I was very sorry to learn of the loss of Bill. Though he and I never worked together during my time at the Air Force Research Laboratory, I was very aware of his intellectual contributions to space science. He was a fantastic mentor of younger scientists, something he continued to do after his "retirement". My best to Hsaio-Hua. Signed, Darryl Greenwood

Allen Warner

Posted at 09:03pm
Our condolences to the Burke family. Our fondest memories are of the shared experiences of our daughter Allison and Maddie through secondary school and all these years as their families grew. Our thoughts are with you, Hsiao-Hua during this time of loss.
Nancy and Allen Warner

Rob Daniell

Posted at 04:07pm
My sincere condolences to Hsiao-Hua and the rest of the family. I have many pleasant memories of you and Bill from our time at Rice and from my years doing business at AFRL. The photograph on the Memorial Page was perfect, reminding me of what a very cheerful and friendly man he was -- always a joy to interact with.

Cheryl Nunes

Posted at 07:42am
Hsiao-hua, so sorry for your loss. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. Cheryl and Lenny Nunes

Bob McClatchey

Posted at 09:46pm
My condolences are particularly being sent to Hsiao-hua.

I know you and your family will miss Bill very much. I am reminded of many interactions with Bill during our years at the Air Force Research Laboratory. He was good to work with and represented the Space Physics work well within our laboratory.

Bob McClatchey

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