Renowned UF physicist, inventor Alex Green dies at 94

FILE - Alex Green is shown here with a drawing of his Beta arrangement model in his home office on May 21, 2012 in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, March 14, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 14, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.

Alex Green’s work as a physicist, professor and inventor will live long beyond his years.

His slide rules significantly impacted the outcome of World War II, and his research in renewable energy led to the founding of Green Liquid Gas and Technologies.

Those who knew him say he was usually ahead of his time — delving into research years before the rest of the world caught up.

On Wednesday, the 94-year-old former graduate research professor at the University of Florida died at Haven Hospice after a short battle with advanced melanoma.

His daughter, Marcia Green, said her father would attribute his greatest accomplishments to the slide rules he developed in World War II.

“His work in science was probably 20 years before his time,” she said. “He was so into family and gathering family together. Because he was so involved in his mind and his work, it wasn’t an easy thing to just let go and be with the family, but that was so important to him.”

Green’s academic background included a bachelor’s in physics from the City College of New York, a master’s from the California Institute of Technology and a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Cincinnati.

Green received his first slide rule when he was 15.

While working with the Air Force in World War II, Green created slide rules used to identify major Japanese warships. Others served as computers for flight engineers to calculate fuel consumption.

“When you flew a 3,000-mile mission, mostly over water, it was a life-and-death calculation, and I’ve really been concerned with fuels ever since,” Green said in a 2003 interview with The Sun.

In what was called one of the “longest and most hazardous” flights of the war, Green’s slide rules helped identify the battleship Yamato, which was part of a large Japanese fleet anchored for lack of oil. The discovery led to a U.S. attack that sank about half of the ships.

In return, Green was recognized by President Harry Truman with a Medal of Freedom.

The invention of electronic calculators turned slide rules into historical museum pieces, but Green felt the tools still held a major advantage.

“It doesn’t require batteries,” he told The Sun in 2003.

Green became a graduate research professor at the University of Florida in 1963, a position he would hold for 40 years before retiring.

As a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and nuclear and radiological engineering, Green’s work focused on alternative fuels, fuel consumption and how to make the best use of fuels available domestically.

His research led to the invention of a machine that burns biowaste such as wood, food and manure to produce liquid, gas and biochar energy sources that are deoxygenated to give them greater energy output.

He patented the design in 1998 and formed Green Liquid and Gas Technologies. The latest model of his machine is being used by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to test biochar on plant soils.

Green turned over the company to Norbert Richter in 2003.

“He had some tremendous vision for energy and energy resources, decades before his time,” Richter said, a reason Richter gave for deciding to join the company.

“I was introduced to him, and we clicked, for lack of a better term,” Richter said. “I recognized that his invention was potentially world-changing, and that was something that got me very excited. Beyond that it was a challenge for me to learn the technology, and he was going to be the right person to teach me.”

Green Liquid Gas and Technologies has been a Sweet 16 finalist all four years of the Cade Museum Prize, designed to help move an innovative Florida-based product or service to market, The company made it to the Final Four last year.

Gene Hemp, vice provost emeritus and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering emeritus at UF, said Green would complain of the lack of national funding for his research topics and that a year later, the funding would appear.

“He had this knack of always being ahead of the curve,” Hemp said. “He was always out in the forefront of hot topics, ahead of the rest of the world it seemed like.”

Green is survived by his wife of 67 years, Freda; a son, Bruce; and three daughters, Deborah, Marcia and Tammy. Funeral services were held Friday, with burial in B’nai Israel Cemetery at the corner of Waldo Road and East University Avenue.

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