In Brief

A Life Focused on Energy

Ronald B. Goldner, professor emeritus of electrical engineering, taught at Tufts for 40 years and held numerous patents
Ronald Goldner
Ronald B. Goldner teaching at Tufts circa 1988.
January 4, 2013


Ronald B. Goldner, professor emeritus of electrical engineering, died on Jan. 3 after a long struggle with vascular dementia following a stroke and heart attack in 2004.

He joined the Tufts faculty in 1964 after serving as an Army officer in the Signal Corps and completing his graduate education at MIT and Purdue. He carried out fundamental research in electro-chemistry and electro-optics, leading to more than 60 publications and 10 patents. His work earned him a Fulbright Scholarship and a professorship in physics at the Ben Gurion University (1987–88), as well as a visiting professorship in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT in 1995.

Energy-efficiency and engineering methods for alternative energy sources were Goldner’s abiding passions.

In 1985, he testified before the U.S. House of Representatives about Tufts-patented technology for energy-efficient—or “smart”—windows. “One third of the annual energy budget is used to control the heating, cooling and lighting of buildings,” he told Congress. “Unfortunately, a large amount of that energy is literally thrown out the window. Smart windows can stop almost all that energy from being lost.”

Goldner’s research and testimony played a significant role in Tufts obtaining a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for the renovation of the Science and Technology Center at 4 Colby Street on the Medford/Somerville campus—a model of energy-efficient building design for its time. He received the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Energy Innovation Award for his work and was featured in the science section of the New York Times.

In the 1990s, Goldner also applied for a patent to harness the energy produced by the motion of shock absorbers to recharge vehicle batteries and increase by 20 to 70 percent the miles per gallon or total driving range performance of electric or hybrid vehicles. The technology Goldner developed with Peter Zerigian, a retired researcher at the School of Engineering, predated the commercial sale of electric and hybrid vehicles by more than a decade. In August 2008, Electric Truck LLC of Greenwich, Conn., applied for the rights to commercialize Goldner’s technology.

Goldner also co-founded and directed the Tufts Electro-Optics Center with the encouragement and financial support of former Dean of Engineering Fred Nelson and former Provost Sol Gittleman. Through the center, he facilitated university-industry research partnerships and offered courses reflecting his belief in hands-on learning.

Goldner liked to characterize his teaching and learning philosophy with 4Ms: Motivate, Make, Measure, Model. Each of his courses was laboratory-based or had a significant laboratory component. Alumni who completed their studies under his tutelage mentioned time and again how they appreciated the hands-on experiences he provided. His teaching legacy at Tufts was so strong that in May 2006, he received the Seymour O. Simches Award for Distinguished Teaching and Advising in absentia.

Goldner was also deeply committed to the Jewish community on campus and off. He and his wife generously supported Jewish education, social justice and Israel with their time, energy and resources. In his support of Israel, Goldner’s voice was strong, thoughtful, productive and measured, based on his personal experience and time spent in Israel.

He is survived by his wife, Judy, their three children, two of whom are teachers and the other an electro-optics engineer, and seven grandchildren.

Funeral services take place on Sunday, Jan. 6, at 10 a.m. at Levine’s Funeral Chapel in Brookline, Mass. Shiva (memorial observance visiting hours) will be at his late residence, 27 Rockville Ave., Lexington, Mass., on Monday, Jan. 7, from 1 to 4 p.m. and on Tuesday, Jan. 8, from 5 to 8 p.m. Memorial donations may be made to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Linda M. Abriola is the dean of Tufts University School of Engineering.

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